Archive for the 'That’s Life' Category

Humiliation, suburban style

NS April 28th, 2010

Inspired by More Than Just a Mother’s post on getting trapped in her newly-constructed chicken run, which, to her embarrassment, her neighbour most likely saw, I found myself reflecting on the myriad strange things my own neighbours have seen at this madhouse.

First, let’s start with our house-warming party, which fell near Halloween. We decided to have a gathering for Noble Girl’s little friends from play group during the day and invited our neighbours to drop by then too. Small talk while the children played and looked adorable in their costumes seemed like a good enough ice-breaker. We invited some of our friends ’round for a boozy costume party later in the evening as well, of which I informed our neighbours when I knocked on their doors, to warn them of the possible noise.

The day went well, though I was a bit disappointed when only one out of the four families we’d invited showed up to say hello and introduce themselves. I’d already known that the family on our immediate right wasn’t coming since they’d informed me that their Christianity prevented them from attending a Halloween party (I know, I know; I was surprised too and only just managed to not make a sarcastic remark about burning pentagrams on the lawn and sacrificial goats), but I was surprised that the two families to our left, both couples with children in their late-teens/early-20s, hadn’t shown since they’d seemed so enthusiastic about coming.

Later that night, dressed as a Murderous Prom Queen complete with bloody tiara and sash, I opened the door breezily with a cocktail in my hand, expecting one of our friends. Instead, I was greeted by the sight of the rest of our neighbours, potted plants and bottles of wine in hand. I stood mute, dumbstruck. They must have confused my invitation to drop by during the day with my mention of a party later that night. Cue desperate attempts to make respectable conversation while ignoring the fact I had on a rather ridiculous get-up that showed more cleavage than I would ever consider stepping out of the house with.

So that was their introduction to the Noble family. Fabulous.

In the two and a half years that have followed, things have carried on in much the same vein. They got to see Noble Girl run naked around the garden during the potty learning phase, intermittently stopping to squat and pee; they’ve had our cat sneak into their house so often that they’ve given up trying to keep her out and have semi-adopted her as their own; they happened to be getting into their car the one time I thought I could nip outside super quickly, in just my knickers and a long t-shirt, to put a particularly odoriferous nappy in the bin; and they heard every little bit of the last hour or so of Noble Boy’s birth, in which I let loose rather operatic-sounding noises from the dining room, with windows open wide.

But perhaps most cringeworthy of all was when my neighbour was handed the biohazard bucket my placenta had been temporarily placed in, dried blood and all, when they came over to see the baby a couple days later — NG had found it in a corner of the garden, where we’d put it for washing but which we’d promptly forgotten about until she put it in my neighbour’s hands. The look of  horror on his face when he realised what it was, masked by neighbourly politeness, will remain etched in my memory forever more. I didn’t dare tell him that what had once been in that bucket was now in our freezer, knowing he would never accept a drink requiring ice from us ever again, not to mention invitations to come over for a roast or stew.

There’s also the time we had put up a large marquee for a barbecue last summer and left it up overnight after a long drinking session. When I stumbled downstairs the next morning in my dressing gown to get water and headache pills, I looked out the back door just in time to see the pissing rain and high wind rip the (borrowed) marquee up out of the ground and send it tumbling arse over tits (as it were) across the lawn, onto the shed and nearly out of our garden entirely. I ran outside in my robe and slippers, face still smeared with last-night’s make-up and breath undoubtedly smelling like the floor of a pub after a 24 hour lock-in. And who just so happened to be out in his shed and jumped over the fence to help me wrangle the runaway marquee while I tried to keep my dressing gown from flapping open in the breeze? You guessed it.

Aside from the standard screaming (from the children) and shouting (from all of us) that they undoubtedly hear every day, we hadn’t had an embarrassing incident involving our neighbours for about a year and I thought maybe we’d broken the curse. But then Easter Monday happened.

At about 10.30am there we all were in the living room, still lounging in our pyjamas after a nutritious breakfast of chocolate followed by more chocolate. I started to tidy up and asked NG to open the door for me as I had my hands full of plates and Easter egg wrappers but she kept saying it was stuck. Thinking she was being ridiculous, I put the plates down and tried it myself. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at the lock and sure enough I could see that it had somehow slid all the way across, even though the key was on the other side of the door. The only explanation was that it had been nearly turned when we shut the door and the jolt of closing had made it turn all the way, locking us in. Utterly preposterous. I sighed and wondered why these things always happened to us.

Unfortunately, we had neither a phone nor a front door key in the same room so even though our small top window was unlocked we had no way of getting through it or even through our own front door. The Noble Husband wondered briefly if we could trust NG to go knock on the neighbours’ door if we lifted her out the window but that plan was quickly scrapped as we envisioned her running gleefully down the street in her pyjamas instead, her bare feet and chocolate-smeared face sure to get her taken away by social services were she to be found. Instead, NH flagged down a passing dog-walker and explained our situation.

“Um, hi, excuse me! Could you help us please? We seem to be locked in our living room and we don’t have a key to let ourselves out or a phone to call for help. Would you be so kind as to give next door a knock and ask them to come over with the spare key to free us?”

I really wish I was joking but those were pretty much his exact words.

Two minutes later our neighbours’ son, who was home from uni and whom we’d only met once, appeared with the key, let himself in and then released us from our four-walled, chocolate wrapper-strewn prison.

So I have to wonder: what’s next? Are they going to somehow walk in on me on the toilet? Will our bed go slamming through our adjoining bedroom walls in a moment of frenzied passion, sending plaster and lingerie flying, like often happens in comedic films? Will I make a derisory joke about David Cameron and then find out they are Tory voters? The multitude of humiliations are too many to contemplate.

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The definition of reflex

NS April 19th, 2010

Sitting on the toilet, mid-flow, when your child starts to tumble backwards towards the steep stairs just off the bathroom. Immediately springing forward, trousers round ankles. Catching an arm in the nick of time, thus preventing disaster, all without spilling a drop.

I knew those pelvic floor exercises would come in handy one day.

Writing Workshop: House number six

NS April 15th, 2010

The following was written for Josie’s Writing Workshop #20, using prompt number one: ‘Tell me about a time you decided to move house’. I may write a second part to it, describing more about the house itself (which was fascinating in its own right, and just as dear to me as the farm).


Of the seven houses I lived in as a child, number six is the only one that ever stole my heart.

It was called Shadow Lake Farm and was off a country road, in a country town. We rented the farmhouse which sat on a 362-acre plot of land and could only be accessed by the winding, gravel path that twisted for a quarter mile from road to hearth. I walked up that lane on the way home from school many a time, kicking up gravel dust with my school shoes and shouldering my heavy backpack, unable to even see the house until I was almost upon it. At the height of summer the corn on both sides engulfed me, making it seem as though I was in a crop tunnel. Just the crickets, the corn and me. When I got to the top of the lane I would often turn, one hand shielding my eyes from the golden sun, and look all around me, at the corn and the waving wheat, the scattered masses of grazing cows, and the grain silos that punctuated the cloudless blue sky like exclamation points, clinging on to the remains of an era slipping by. My heart swelled with a quiet joy and sense of pride; ‘This is my kingdom!’ I wanted to roar. And it was.

I never needed to go to theme parks or petting zoos or hiking trails to get my fill of adventure and nature. It was all around me, every day. Anywhere my legs and imagination could carry me, I went. Book and apple in hand, head in the clouds and calloused, bare feet dangling on either side of my horse, Applejack, I could do, go and see anything I wanted. I secretly fancied myself a female Huckleberry Finn.

The land, owned by a renowned surgeon in the nearest city, included three fishing ponds, a disused cottage and an old abattoir, its red-streaked walls and rusty meat hooks evoking in me a sense of fascination and sadness on the few occasions when I stacked up bricks to peek inside the barred windows. In my younger years I often sat on a rock by the side of the pond, casting my rod into the water below, hoping to catch one of the fish darting between my submerged feet. I used worms I dug up in the gardening patch. Failing that, I would borrow my dad’s tackle box with its vast, colourful array of lures and bobbers, hooks and lines. He was usually too busy cutting the endlessly-growing grass surrounding the house to even notice. I remember looking at him on the riding lawnmower executing sharp turns, narrowly avoiding trees and rocks and forming neat rows of shorn lawn for us to enjoy for a whole week before he had to do it all over again. I sometimes wondered if he ever felt like throwing his hands up in the air, saying, “I give up!” But he never did. Instead he mopped his sweat-soaked brow with his red bandana and then headed inside for a large glass of iced tea and a rest in his favourite chair before getting up resignedly to confront another vast expanse of grass.

Down by the pond, my yellow labrador, Dino, often sat beside me, occasionally jumping in to cool off and then splattering me with the droplets when he decided to shake dry. We’d had ducks at one point but Dino, being a fowl hunter by nature, had taken them out one by one, often depositing their heads in odd places around our house. I used to joke that he was like a one-dog mafia. As far as the fish went, I rarely caught anything of size and even when I did, rarely kept it. Gutting and cleaning fish was not something I’d ever been particularly fond of, though my fishing-crazy cousin had patiently shown me how many times. One would think I’d be tempted to go vegetarian as a veterinarian-wannabe with all this animal killing going on around me, but it was just part of life at Shadow Lake Farm.

As I got a bit older and outgrew fishing and playing in the fields, I took instead to one of three favourite ‘hiding spots’: in the tree house, at the top of the hay stack in the barn or underneath a grove of pine trees near the abandoned cottage towards the back of the property, where I could sit for hours on a bed of soft, fresh-smelling needles, protected from the sun and the eyes of anyone who wanted to find me. If I grew tired of walking or taking Applejack (who often dumped me off and raced back to the stable to bury his nose in the oat bucket) to the far corners of the farm, I would sometimes hop in the golf cart or red go-cart that were kept behind the barn, alternate modes of transport for those of us who couldn’t drive cars yet.

When I ventured home, hungry for lunch, I could usually find my older sister sitting on the sofa, flipping through magazines and listening to her favourite radio station. Her allergies and asthma prevented her from pursuing many of the things I did so she was always more ‘indoorsy’ than me. I sometimes wished she could come out and go on one of my adventures with me, but at the same time I relished the independence. In retrospect, it did me a lot of good. Perhaps that is why, even today, I crave solitariness when I need to get out of head for awhile. To be joyful with other people is lovely, of course, but to be alone and happy is a gift, one I feel that time alone on the farm gave me.

On warm nights when we had company, my dad would get the grill out and barbecue some burgers or chicken. I’d always volunteer to pick a few ears of corn from the field to add to our meal. I loved standing on the edge of those majestic plants, like so many soldiers in neat rows, before stepping into the maze. I never ventured too far towards the middle, being too nervous of getting lost, but the fire flies, always thick in the sky at nightfall, lit the way home. Back at the house, I prepared the corn with my sister. Peeling away the outer layers (called ‘shucking’) to reveal the sweet, golden kernels within was almost as enjoyable as slathering the finished product in butter before it hit our plates. Oh, how I loved summer on that farm.

My childhood was a charmed one in many ways, despite its sorrows and hardships, not because we were well-off (we weren’t) or because I had a perfect family (we weren’t), but because I had the gift of space and time. Space to roam and explore and time to be and do things on my own. The land we lived on wasn’t mine, we didn’t own it, but it was just as much a part of me, and I of it, as the seeds were part of the soil.

When we left Shadow Lake for a much smaller house on a much smaller plot of land in the middle of town, I was heartbroken. Leaving my horse, the ponds, the fields, the lane, the house….it was almost too much to bear. In retrospect, it was the perfect time to leave as I was entering into my teenage years and the new house’s more central location was ideal for getting lifts, going to friends’ houses and so on, and I probably would have quickly outgrown all the wonders of the farm, but at the time it felt like a loss; another loss on top of the one we’d already suffered.

But as with many things in life, I adapted and moved on because I had to. Like a childhood friend who fades from your life but never your thoughts, this house, number six, will always live, perfect and true, in my memory.

The unbearable monotony of mothering

NS April 8th, 2010

Doing funny voices all day? I can deal with that.

Waiting patiently for a tantrum in public to subside? Unpleasant, but doable.

Breastfeeding a baby for hours on end and then a toddler who pinches and kicks and squirms? I bear it.

Changing nappies, preparing meals, rounding up all the items needed for an outing, arranging playdates, doing the school run, ensuring they are eating well, meeting their developmental milestones, learning manners, empathy, self-confidence, the alphabet and how to navigate this complex world successfully? That seems like the easy part most days.

You know which bit I absolutely cannot abide, the bit that, no matter how many times I am confronted with and know I cannot escape still manages to drive me up a wall?

The mess.

The endless, self-perpetuating, infinitesimal cycle of spills, crumbs, soggy towels, muddy shoes, water all over the bathroom floor, every nappy taken out of its package, every item of clothing removed from the dresser, made beds instantly unmade, toys underfoot: toys on the sofa, under the bed, in the washing machine, in the car, in my handbag; marker pen dragged along the recently-painted wall, cat food dumped out, containers placed (empty) back in the fridge, overflowing bins no one else seems to notice and a pile of laundry that moves from body to floor to hamper to basket to machine to airer or radiator to basket to bed to drawer and back onto the body where it will remain for perhaps three to four hours before being soiled and removed yet again.

These things —  not the tears or fighting or whining or being jumped on, poked, awakened, kept up, tried, tested and put through the wringer — is what usually ends up being the straw that broke this camel’s weary back. Maybe camels and mothers have more in common than previously thought — we both store reserves of fat and patience to see us through the long, hard slog in the brutal, relentless desert but eventually, if provoked, we get mean and spit; we lie down and refuse to move, dumping our hapless hangers-on headfirst into the quicksand.

Sometimes I look at another mess I have to clean up, another lovingly-prepared meal uneaten or another load of laundry I have to fold and put away and I do one of two things (and on a really, really bad day, both): explode or cry. I have seen a bowl of purposely-dumped cereal turn me from a normal person into a seething, shaking, quivering ball of internal fury that manifests itself with a clenched jaws, fistfuls of hair, eyes filled with teary, apoplectic rage and a river of self-pity and hatred that rushes through me so suddenly and with such force that it dulls the sharp edges of my heart a little.

It can’t be normal to have such a strong reaction to water dumped out of the bath, can it?

It’s not about the mess itself. I know that kids will be kids and that they don’t mean it (most of the time) and that it will get better as they get older. I know that in the grand scheme of things (and even in the not-so-grand), messes don’t matter. I know that Noble Girl doesn’t know how bat-shit crazy it makes me when  she starts chanting, “I’m hungry!” every 30 seconds right after lunch and while I’m doing my daily freelance gig, on deadline; I know that Noble Boy doesn’t know how soul-destroying it is to have to say, “No. No. NO. Don’t touch that, please. No. Please, don’t touch it. No. No! I said NO!” about 90 billion times a day.

But it’s not that.

It’s more about the monotony and knowing that if I don’t do it or say it, no one else will. It’s knowing that while I’m busy cleaning up one mess another will be created in the next room, and then the next, and so on. It’s knowing that even if get down on my knees and look them in the eye and do everything a good parent is supposed to do in teaching their child about appropriate behaviour, it will go in one ear and out the other and I will feel like a broken record, scratched and spinning out of control with no one listening. It’s knowing that nearly every other mother on the planet feels or has felt this way too, and even that is not much of a comfort.

It’s knowing that I will do this every day, several times a day, for years to come, because I have to.

Confession Friday

NS March 5th, 2010

I sometimes (okay, frequently) forsake opportunities to interact or play with my children in order to read blogs, books or articles about the more abstract aspects of parenting. I think this might mean I’m more interested in intellectually analysing motherhood than performing the duties associated with it. And I only feel a tiny bit guilty about that.

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