We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
[Marianne Williamson]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cracking Up

After reading my sister's comment on the previous post, I went to poach some eggs for Wombat's (and my) lunch... He watched me cracking the eggs, and thought it was absolutely hilarious... I managed to recreate the giggles for a video just by saying "Crack" without the egg ;D

(he is getting very good at waving, but he was more interested in reaching for the camera than waving to his cousin!)

His infectious laughter put the whole world back into perspective again... while the obvious pain he is in from the next pair of teeth cutting through made me rather glad we weren't taking him away on holiday this week - let alone trying to fly him across the country by myself! We are going to attempt the Sydney Easter Show next week instead, which will be enough of a challenge.

Sorry I haven't got his birthday update written yet - it went very well - a quiet day at home, then we took him to the local show the day after. We were going to take him out on Sunday as well, but the weather turned icy cold all of a sudden, so we stayed inside instead. The little toothiepegs mean he is not sleeping very well (just when we were getting into a good routine - we had cut out the 4am wakeup, and been getting at least one hour & a half nap each day) so my time is very limited... I am also very tired, so I will put up a few birthday pics to give his auntie a sneak preview, then I'm off to bed - one tired-out Mummy!!!

This is the Tonka truck set he got from his Daddy...

and some of the books he got from Mummy...

His very plain birthday cake - he doesn't like icing much, so I made a nice moist carrot cake with hardly any decoration - felt like I was cheating him a bit (cake decorating is a big thing in our family) but the cake tasted yummy with fresh cream and he enjoyed it - that was the main thing. I'll do better next year.

At the show, his favourite thing was the spinny windmill we bought him - the only time he really cried was in the poultry pavilion, when a BIG white chicken pecked at his windmill through the bars - most upsetting - only a big cuddle and being splashed by a drinking duck made him feel better ;)

Wombat and I went on the Ferris Wheel - he liked it until the people on the AliBaba ride you can just see in front of us started screaming... after that he got a bit sooky and I had to distract him by pointing out Daddy on the ground and waving madly every time we went past...

The nice man with the basketball game (far left, in the blue shirt; Yeti is carrying Wombat) let Wombat put his own ball in the hoop and gave him the cute little Brazil bear as a prize... Wombat looked a bit upset about it (stranger in his personal space) but when the carny offered him a choice of other soft toys instead, he grabbed onto his bear!!!

Wombat and I went on the merry-go-round... it was a bit off-putting because it went past the back of all the other rides, with noisy machinery, all a bit industrial, rather than a flowery meadow ;P and there was no nice tinkly music... Wombat was a bit tired and unsure about it all, but he liked it when I pointed to the horse next to us and he realised he was riding on one too, and when I sang his horsey song ("Riding on your horsey, riding on your horse. Riding on your horsey, your horse, your horse of course...")

Apart from the windmill, I think Wombat's favourite birthday moment of the show was having his first taste of sugar doughnut!

Pretty good for a first birthday, I think, especially as there are quite a few presents still 'in the mail' so he won't overload by getting all his new toys at once ;)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Le Sigh

Next weekend is my graduation ceremony - my second - the first was a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English, this is a Bachelor of Laws, also with first class Honours.

The university is some distance away - about 7 hours drive. For months we have been planning to make a family holiday of it - Yeti, Wombat and I. We have discussed, made lists, planned, booked and paid for accommodation. We were going to make the trip easier and more fun for Wombat by stopping half way and staying at the beach, and taking an extra day to go a little further north to look at one of the places we are thinking of moving to when we eventually leave here. I have family living near the university itself - an aunt and uncle, a cousin and his young family, and another cousin back for a short holiday from England where he has been working. I haven't seen my cousins for 18 years, and last saw my aunt and uncle at my sister's wedding, which was also quite a while ago. Dad had not been invited to my first graduation, as places were limited, so he had been promised an invite to this one and had been making a big deal about being there.

For those who don't know, my mother-in-law lives with us. She is 86 and usually very healthy and active. For the past week or so, she has been feeling unwell, though. It is quite obvious that when she bends over to talk to Wombat she gets very dizzy, and though she refuses to slow down and is as busy cleaning and gardening as ever, we are quite worried about her. We can tell she is not feeling her best. Not wanting to be alone when we went away, she organized for her cousin to stay with her. He is nearly 90, but also active and strong.

Then for three days he went missing and we couldn't contact him. He rang on Friday - Wombat's first birthday - to say that he'd been in hospital with extremely high blood pressure and they didn't know what was wrong. There have been a number of deaths in the family lately - my mother-in-law has lost two close friends - a husband and wife who passed away within weeks of each other, and Yeti's aunt has very recently passed away - the last member of his father's family who bothered to keep in touch with us. All were younger than MIL. Her cousin's wife died suddenly a few months ago, less than a week after finding out she had cancer, and MIL's older (and only) sister has also been diagnosed with stomach cancer and is rapidly losing her sight. Understandably, MIL has been a bit knocked down by all of this.

Under the circumstances, what would you do? Leave two ailing, elderly people alone together to look after a country property, in wild stormy weather, with an unreliable phone service and no hot water (turns out the insurance doesn't cover lightning strikes - we have to replace the hot water system ourselves) where an ambulance takes over half-an-hour to arrive (on a good day)?

Obviously, we cancelled our holiday. I had already paid for cabins at the caravan parks, and since we couldn't give 30 days notice of cancellation, we lost our money at several of them. I also cancelled my attendance at the graduation. Although I admit this was a disappointment, I think it was the right thing to do. For me, the achievement was in completing the work successfully, not in being handed the bit of paper in a boring ceremony. The thing I was really looking forward to (apart from the holiday) was the professional family portrait of myself in academic dress with Wombat and Yeti.

However, my father and other family don't see it that way. Instead of acknowledging where my priorities lay, my father got all upset about how terrible it was that I wouldn't be able to collect my degree in person. Sure I can understand that he has been planning his attendance for quite a while, and that he is now committed to being at the University on that day, having arranged to give a lecture there. My aunt rang just after I spoke to Dad, all bubbly and enthusiastic about seeing us, so I had to explain and disappoint her too. She and Dad both encouraged me to fly up for the day. Dad even offered to pay for the tickets - but when I checked the flights, there were only two on that day - one up that wouldn't get there until after the ceremony started, and one back that would get me home after Wombat's dinner time. No problem, they said. Come the day before, and bring Wombat.

This would sound easy to most people, but they can't seem to understand that it's not how I do things. For a start, I would take no pleasure in being at the ceremony without Yeti - what is the point in celebrating the triumph without the one who has stood by me through all the troubles and long years of getting there? But I was willing to make the effort for their sakes, and because I wanted to see my cousins again. That was if the planes had worked out for me - Yeti was even willing to take Wombat out for the day and distract him so he wouldn't be too upset by my being away.

However, Wombat is just 12 months old. He is teething and easily upset in strange situations. I am not going to drag him across the country, risk him flying in a small, crowded plane, force him to sit with people he doesn't know during a long and boring ceremony, and then expect him to listen to adults talking, just on the off-chance that he will enjoy the chance to interact with my cousin's kids! It's too far to go, and too much stress just for a playdate!

To me, it feels like a recipe for disaster - especially as we have just got the potty training going well - everytime he poops in his nappy, he refuses to go for a few days and ends up getting constipated. I have been making an extra effort to make sure he has regular opportunities to sit on potty, and it is paying off in his happiness. I can't take the potty on the plane, for a start! If he were even a year older, I could try to explain what was happening, and it might not be so bad, but in the circumstances, it's just not fair on him.

I try and explain all this to my father and aunt, and somehow, my aunt gets offended because I don't want to see them, and my father decides that my evil husband is brainwashing me and forcing me to stay home. Excuse me?

Yeti has paid for this degree both financially and emotionally. If anyone wants to see me reap the rewards and feel proud of me, he does. He is also as disappointed as I am that we had to cancel the holiday - even moreso, because he feels that he has failed me. So I am trying to put a brave face on it for his benefit, because I fully agree, we have no choice in the matter, and sulking about it is not going to help anyone. It's just one of those things and we will get our holiday soon enough. Meanwhile, my father rings while we are out and harrasses MIL. He is rude to Yeti when he answers the phone, and he holds me on the phone for over an hour while Yeti looks after Wombat, trying to convince me that I am missing the opportunity of a lifetime by not attending the stupid ceremony. Gee, thanks for the support, Dad. I'm glad you think so low of me that you think personal aggrandisement is more important to me than my family's health and happiness.

When I explained that I wasn't going to take Wombat on the plane, and that I couldn't leave him to come up overnight because he still wakes crying for me every morning at 6am, Dad made a snide comment about Yeti needing to share more of the parenting burden. My teeth are still grinding over that one. Yeti is always willing to play with Wombat or take him for a walk whenever I need a break, but Wombat is going through that clingy-Mummy stage when no-one else will do (and as frustrating as it can be, I wouldn't change it for the world!) It really irks me that my father wants to give out parenting advice, considering his abysmal track record.

I really really really want to say to him, "so, you're telling me you took over the 6am BREASTFEED when I was twelve months old???"

To make things more difficult, Dad's attitude has upset Yeti - who already felt bad enough, so he spent several days ranting and yelling about having spent $300,000 on my education when my father never spent a cent, and yet I care more about what my father thinks blah blah blah... I think he was afraid that I was going to take Wombat and leave him, never to come back.

There are times when trying to keep my family and my husband both happy makes me feel like a swirling black hole with a thin shell (Schelle) of sanity holding it all together, and desperately trying to keep cheerful and optimistic for the sake of Wombat's sense of normality while everyone else blows up around me.

Thankfully, Yeti's depression seems to have calmed down (so long as Dad doesn't call again for a few days) and while I still feel dreadful about disappointing everyone else, I am happy in myself that I made the right decision.

It was nice that when I explained the situation to my mother (who admittedly attended my first graduation ceremony, so doesn't feel so personally disappointed) she agreed that it was a shame I wouldn't be able to collect my degree in person, but supported my decision.

Sorry about the long-windedness of this rant - but I had to get it out of my system as otherwise I would want to write to Dad to try and explain myself yet again, and I am far too tired to be attempting that particular impossibility.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm having fun with this

How could I possibly resist a name like Zbpotlatch Tweed? Thank you, Spam Folder ;P


"It looks like a good one, Captain."
The young crewmember excitedly flapped a fuzzy tentacle at the blotch on the screen.
Zbpotlatch Tweed sighed. How did the Council expect him to achieve anything with such a mismatched menagerie for a crew?
Then he suppressed his frustration and peered at the screen. The squid was right. It did look promising. If he could just find a thimble full of banarium, he could return to those pompous cloud creatures in triumph and demand to be returned home. This would be his fifth successful mission and the rule was: if you succeed five times, you're free.

For a moment Zbpotlatch allowed himself to dream of his beautiful planet - its deep blue seas and green continents, the fluffy white clouds, and at night, a sparkling tinsel of lights strung in a spiderweb of cities across the globe. This was as far as he would let himself to see, remembering only his last view of the earth as he was whisked away from it.
He hurriedly returned his attention to the data scrolling across his monitor. It was far too painful to risk contemplating those he had left behind.

Several thousand light years away, the Council of Guldil monitored his progress, their amorphous bodies pulsating green and purple with agitation and anxiety.
"Don't tell me he actually found some?"
"But how?"
"You assured us there was none to be found in that sector."
"How was I to know? Seven hundred candidates have died on that quest so far."
"Of course, he would be the one to succeed."
"How are we going to explain it to him? Sorry, due to a bureaucratic error of judgment, your planet was classified as disposable and has since been vaporised into cosmic dust."
"Couldn't we just..." a wisp of cloud reached from one of the creatures, plucking an insect out of the air and letting its lifeless body fall to the ground.
"If only," another sighed. "But we had to sign that blasted United Galaxies Convention in Species Survival. Otherwise they wouldn't let us continue our expansion. Even if he died accidentally now, you know their inspectors would be all over us, especially since we caused - inadvertently, of course - the extinction of so many other species on that planet. We're just going to have to keep him distracted until he dies of natural causes."
A wry laugh sounded from the rear of the crowd. When attention focussed in that direction, the source of the laughter flushed pink with embarrassment, but encouraged by those around her, she explained, "That might take longer than you think. From what I have found in that planet's archives, he has the potential to outlive all of us."
Speaking over the clamour of confusion that followed, she continued.
"My advice is to tell him the truth. Let him go back to the spot where his planet used to be. With any luck, with his scavenging skills, he will find more of his kind still surviving despite the demolition of his planet. After all, cockroaches are remarkably resilient."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Marvellous Spam

I always feel so squirrely when I haven't written anything creative for a while.

I don't have the time to work properly on any of my novels-in-progress at the moment - it is too frustrating to have to stop everytime I finally get into the flow... and poetic inspiration has been remarkably absent for quite a while now. It comes and goes, refusing to be forced - and at the moment it is decidedly gone. Despite all this, I need to write.

Deleting my spam yesterday, I was amazed by all the fantastic character names that had been trying to sell me viagra, a mortgage or a job with an Israeli insurance company. They gave me an idea! Rather than flash fiction, which while short, requires a more polished product, I am going to write me some 'SPAM FICTION'. I am going to pick a name from my spam folder and a single paperbag fiction slip, give myself 5 minutes for brainstorming and plotting, spend 10 minutes - and no more - writing that character's story, and then another 5 minutes tidying and editing. I won't have much to show for my twenty minutes, but it will at least satisfy my creative urges without tempting me to ignore Wombat's needs while I write 'just one more sentence'. I will jump into the story wherever I find an opening, carry it as far as I can in the time allowed, and stop regardless of whether or not it feels finished. I will make no attempt to keep the stories connected or coherent. They will just be 10 minute windows into the character's world. Maybe I will come back and do something with them in the future. Maybe this is as far as they will ever go. I have no idea. A baby step is a baby step, and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

There is one name that popped up in my spam folder weeks ago. I scribbled it down on the back of an envelope because it seemed to be begging to be in a story... I will start with her. Welcome to the first entry in my Marvelous Spam Collection.

Sanity McRae added a shot of Coruba to her mocha latte and shuffled the papers in front of her as though seeing them in a different order would help them make more sense. Her blood-red manicured talons tapped a tango on the tabletop. The case was a strange one. The boy's body had been found in the bush, his head pillowed on a mossy stone and his legs dragging in the creek. It had been raining heavily for three days, and the dry creekbed had only recently started flowing again. Having had to fight her way through thick scrub to inspect the scene, Sanity reasoned that the boy (and his companions - if there had been any) had trekked up the creekbed, which meant any sign of their passage was now long gone. The boy hadn't been dressed for bushwalking. In fact, he looked more like an escapee from a fancy dress party, wearing a muddy lace shirt and Little Lord Fauntleroy knickerbockers of deep blue velvet. Sanity remembered listening to the celebrations of a thousand frogs as she inspected the corpse, trying to tune out the sight of her white-faced reflection in his polished silver buttons. Her pale blue eyes narrowed and she chewed her thin bottom lip as she pulled a photo from the middle of the pile. Out of all the strange details, this was the one she kept coming back to. She was sure that somehow, this held the answer. Clutched tightly in the boy's cold wet fingers - an empty wicker birdcage.

Run, rabbit, run

Ever since I was a child, I have had a long list of gadgets I would like to see invented to make my life easier. I used to dream of a teleporter which would save me from the long walk to school... the an automatic book reader which would save me having to turn pages - and which would have a built-in light for reading under the covers... These days, my own driving licence and a hand-me-down laptop from my father have satisfied these desires to some extent (though without living up to the original design specifications!)

There is one device which still fills me with unsatisfied longing - the thought transcriber! This magical machine would take my carefully composed internal thoughts and save the words in some kind of editable, printable format thus eliminating the need for pen or keyboard.

So often I feel that my best work occurs in circumstances where I am unable to record it. The subtext of this entry, for example, was composed while cuddling and feeding and soothing a very tired and sooky Wombat back to sleep at 4am. I am now (5am) scribbling with pen, paper and torch hidden under the blanket so as not to disturb a sleeping babe (who is still whimpering every 10 minutes because his teeth hurt and he wants me to snuggle up and sleep with him, as is my habit in the early morning.) Yeti has taken to sleeping in the loungeroom lately so he can keep a heater on his sore back, but that is part of a different story and I don't want to get too sidetracked here.

The point is, what I am writing now feels nowhere near as clear and concise as the 'original' composition in my mind. The process of writing is like suddenly being trapped in Wombat's body and being forced to rely on a parent's hand or clumsy inanimate objects in order to walk, as compared to a few minutes ago (while composing in my head) when I was running like Cathy Freeman.* Typing it into the computer adds yet another stage to this time-consuming process (as I am a reasonably fast two-finger typist) but at least it gives me the opportunity for some much-needed editing.

Of course, my fabulous thought-reading machine would need an on/off button - something like a cochlear implant. When I first imagined the device as a child, I was fascinated by the paradox? conundrum? that if I recorded all my thoughts I would need another lifetime in which to read them, and a couple more lifetimes to think about what I'd read - and if I were recording what those thoughts were... well, I'm sure you can see the problem. Then there would be my inherent desire to read, not only my own thoughts, but the edited thoughts of others! My childish insistence on writing as my future career was primarily based on my love of reading rather than any true vocation - otherwise I would have written more and read less!

Which brings me to blogging and the addiction which is keeping me up to 4am most mornings and making me regard Wombat's desire for Mummy's warmth and comfort as an imposition rather than a delicious opportunity to indulge in baby snuggles.

In deconstructing an ancient Lenten prayer, Elizabeth at Real Learning suggests that " the devil drives the information superhighway. He claps with glee when moms log on." I have enough minor examples of Wombat neglect nagging at my conscience to know what she means (most accompanied by a submerged blogging narrative as I remark on my own wrongdoing). I am therefore going to follow her example and limit my blog-reading to 15 minutes a day. I am also going to impose a strict 2:30am bedtime (I am up at 4am today because Yeti and I got caught up searching for books for Wombat's birthday present - $150 later and we are very happy with our choices. I think this version of All Things Bright and Beautiful is our favourite!) I will renew my commitment to Wombat to be fully there for him while he is awake.

To paraphrase Gwen Harwood (Aussie poet - my commentaries on her work bring more visitors to my site than anything else I've ever written - another writing project in urgent need of attention!):

'children need a wholehearted mother, not a halfhearted poet.'

[Lol... my scribbled notes become almost intelligible here... I think it says something like...] At least some of the time I save from blog-reading, I will commit to writing. I will also do more housecleaning, food preparation and taking care of myself (particularly exercise). I will take that Lenten prayer to heart (and post it on my monitor)... but not even a conscious decision to change my ways can quite cure me of the cupidity I feel for that thought transcriber ;)
I will turn the torch off now and lie in the dark trying to pray myself to sleep while my subconscious goes into creative overdrive, plotting, pruning, searching for the perfect word, the precise turn of phrase, composing story after story - all of which will have faded by dawn, never to see the light of day.

* While playing with Wombat this morning, I was struck by the obvious point of that analogy. If Wombat keeps practising and doesn't let himself be overwhelmed by frustration with his current inadequacies, he WILL be running sooner than either of us imagine. Maybe not competitively with an Olympic athlete, but to the best of his abilities at this stage in his life. Cathy Freeman didn't waste time sitting around wishing for magic running shoes that would float her over the ground and never trip or stumble - or even if she did! - she channelled her energies into training to use her God-given gifts to the full extent of her potential. As a result, her light shone so brightly that it lit up the world.

"This little light of mine... I'm gonna let it shine..."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Magic City

I've been finished Edith Nesbitt's The Magic City for well over a week now, but still haven't had a chance to jot down my thoughts about it – or even choose a new book to read!

I am trying hard to catch up with Wombat's updates before his first birthday, and we are also planning our first real family holiday in years for the end of this month – which will include my graduation ceremony. There are so many things to think about when travelling with a baby! I have just bought a (secondhand on ebay) pram – a Triton Trekker - which will hopefully fold a bit smaller than our beloved Emmaljunga (also secondhand from ebay ;P), and a pile of other things... plus there is a little matter of Wombat birthday presents to be taken care of... I added a huge pile of books to a virtual shopping cart the other day, because more than anything else at the moment, Wombat LOVES books (his other toys go largely untouched! Guess he takes after me ;P) but then I realised if I bought all of those I wouldn't be able to afford petrol to go on holiday... so they will just have to wait and be an unbirthday present later in the year (he already has Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton, and Yeti & I heard some snippets of songs from Philadelphia Chickens the other day and immediately bought that for him... I want to get him lots more Boynton books because they are just so much fun!)

I have been praying that the electricity bill wouldn't arrive and need to be paid before we go, but it arrived today, and is due to be paid the day before we leave. The request for divine assistance didn't fail me though - it's not nearly as bad as I feared – still horrendous but about $400 less than the last one – I guess all those electricity blackouts we've had lately have been good for something!)

We are still living without a hot-water system. Water for washing up is boiled in the kettle, and we are using an immersion heater to warm our bathwater – Wombat and I bathe together, and Yeti often uses the water afterwards :P He always said the ancient hot-water system was the most expensive electrical appliance in the house. I guess he was right! It looks like it won't be covered by insurance, so it will be a while until we can afford to replace it. Surprising how quickly you learn to live without having hot water on tap!

Anyway, back to the book review. I did enjoy The Magic City, though it is very dated in parts (published 1910). It also suffers from one of the traditional drawbacks of childrens' books, in that the main boy character is an orphan, and the mother of the main girl character has just died.

Philip lives with his adored, absolutely perfect half-sister, Helen, who is twenty years old than him. She homeschools him, and nourishes his active imagination. Philip's world is turned upside down when Helen is reunited with her childhood sweetheart, who is a recent widower. He proposes and Helen accepts, telling Philip he will now be going to live with her in a big mansion of a house, and have a new sister called Lucy. Philip is distraught at the thought of sharing Helen with anyone, and determines to hate Lucy sight unseen. His sister has taught him well, however, and he suppresses his ambivalence for her sake - at least while she is watching.

Helen and her husband head off on honeymoon, and Philip is left in the big house with Lucy and a pile of servants. He is miserable and takes his feelings out on Lucy, who is unfailingly good natured – a lonely, only child who has been looking forward to sharing her games with a friend. Lucy's aunt sees Philip's horrid behaviour, and takes Lucy off for a short holiday, leaving Philip alone with the servants, including a strict and unsympathetic nurse who forbids him to touch Lucy's toys.

His life starts to improve when the nurse temporarily returns to her own home, leaving him free range of the house. His temper sweetens and he gradually wins over the other servants. To amuse himself, he starts to build a city in the library, using Lucy's blocks and anything else he can find (since a city built all of blocks “looks like a factory”). When it is finished, Philip is magically transported into his city, where he meets Lucy (who has returned unexpectedly and followed him in). He is still resentful of her, despite her friendliness, and although they promise to support each other in their adventure, he abandons her in a moment of danger. Back in the real world, he finds everything has turned 'topsy turvy' because Lucy has gone missing. Only he knows where she is. He realises that only he can save her and that it is his duty to do so (as it turns out, Lucy becomes an active participant in her rescue).

This is where the real adventure begins, as Philip and Lucy travel on a fantastic journey through every imaginative landscape Philip has ever built, peopled by a mixture of the toy figurines Philip used to populate his creations, by the craftspeople who made the objects he used in building (who inhabit this world while they are dreaming in the real world) and by occasional escapees from the books he has incorporated into his designs.

This concept is very well handled by Nesbitt, with lots of fun details that really make the story.
Philip noticed that each soldier stood on a sort of green mat. When the order to march was given, each soldier quickly and expertly rolled up his green mat and put it under his arm. And whenever they stopped, because of the crowd, each soldier unrolled his green mat, and stood on it till it was time to go on again. And they had to stop several times, for the crowd was very thick in the great squares and in the narrow streets of the city. It was a wonderful crowd. There were men and women and children in every sort of dress. Italian, Spanish, Russian; French peasants in blue blouses and wooden shoes, workmen in the dress English working people wore a hundred years ago. Norwegians, Swedes, Swiss, Turks, Greeks, Indians, Arabians, Chinese, Japanese, besides Red Indians in dresses of skins, and Scots in kilts and sporrans. Philip did not know what nation most of the dresses belonged to—to him it was a brilliant patchwork of gold and gay colours. It reminded him of the fancy-dress party he had once been to with Helen, when he wore a Pierrot's dress and felt very silly in it. He noticed that not a single boy in all that crowd was dressed as he was—in what he thought was the only correct dress for boys. Lucy walked beside him. Once, just after they started, she said, 'Aren't you frightened, Philip?' and he would not answer, though he longed to say, 'Of course not. It's only girls who are afraid.' But he thought it would be more disagreeable to say nothing, so he said it.
The turn-of-the-century morality of the book is spread pretty thickly, but is still generally relevant to today's children:
Girls weren't expected to be brave.
'They are, here,' said Mr. Noah, 'the girls are expected to be brave and the boys kind.'
While in general this level of morality suits the story, there are times when the passage of time has spoiled the effect. A good example is when Philip finally starts to warm towards Lucy (we all knew they were going to be friends, right?) and he says “I hate gas” meaning the kind of gushing enthusiasm girls are prone to indulging in. Lucy's reply is properly stereotypical:
'Yes,' said Lucy obediently, 'I know. Only sometimes you feel you must gas a little or burst of admiration.'
This was one of the very few jarring points, however, and Nesbitt continued the conversation long enough for a young modern reader to puzzle out the meaning of the word:
'What a lovely island it is. And you made it!'
'No gas,' said Philip warningly. 'Helen and I made it.'
'She's the dearest darling,' said Lucy.
'Oh, well,' said Philip with resignation, 'if you must gas, gas about her.'
I will leave you to discover the details of Philip and Lucy's adventures for yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the appropriateness of the quests, and the clever ways they were solved. My favourite character was the parrot! Less convincing was the villain of the story – the Pretenderette. I won't reveal her rather obvious identity, but I found her appearances (and her disguise) to be an almost annoying distraction in the story. At times she seemed more wooden than the wooden characters! The interaction between her and the parrot was entertaining, however - the best moment was when the parrot dragged her back to jail by the ear!

Her motivation for her behaviour was perhaps the most dated thing about the book, and might take some explaining to modern children. While the final battle was almost a disappointing anticlimax in which Philip and Lucy played very little part, I did think the Pretenderette's fate was poetic justice at its best.

All in all I found it a very enjoyable, light read, and I look forward to sharing it with Wombat – though perhaps I will save it until after he has passed that impressionable age where (from what I have heard) stories featuring deceased parents can be a problem.

I think it would be brilliant for the 7-9 age group, where the behaviour and morals of the characters could provide the start to a discussion about personal development. The fantasy structure should assist in promoting imagination and creative play with everyday objects.

I know I immediately started looking at the objects around me with new eyes, wondering how I would fit them into a magic city of my own.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Someone to watch over me

[An entry for Scribbit's March Write-Away Contest]

"Never leave child unattended."
"Not to be used without adult supervision."

The same warning (or is it a threat?) is emblazoned on every utilitarian object in Wombat's environment. To a childless person it seems obviously necessary, and easy to comply with. Once you are in the midst of the actual baby-wrangling, however, the grey shades start to leap out at you. I am lucky that Wombat has a very vigilant guardian angel, or he wouldn't have made it through his first week, let alone his first year (touch wood, the year's not up yet).

Does turning away to fold a fresh nappy count as lack of supervision while baby is sitting on his potty?

It does if baby decides to practice standing up and somersaulting into his bed. (Thank goodness he was smart enough not to go sideways, headfirst onto the wooden floor.)

He's taken top-heavy dives off our bed so often that we bought him a king-single mattress and built a fortress of padded rails around it, allowing me to still co-sleep with him to some extent (ie. when I don't manage to sneak away after feeding him).

Now he is getting more mobile, I sit on the toilet with the door open, dreading the day when I shall have to dive out and tackle him before he lunges head first down the steep stairs onto the concrete pavers. I have left him untethered in the pram for a moment while carrying the washing basket up those same stairs, certain that he is too tired and lethargic to attempt escape, only to see him gleefully clinging to the hood and bouncing with all his might. (I think I flew down the stairs that time, as the pram lurched at a sickening angle.)

If there is a way for him to make his mother's heart pound, her throat to close, and her nerves to go into overtime prayer-drive, he will find it... and use it.

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about how we filter our memories - and the stories we tell and are told about our lives - through our present day experiences. Around the time of my wedding,* I realised I was carrying a lot of unexpressed angst from my childhood. My first forays into blogdom involved a lot of "unpacking suitcases" (unloading my emotional baggage into an online journal for the amusement of strangers - and my sister.**) I was quite angry at my mother at the time, and busy discarding my childish perception that she could do no wrong in favour of the opposite extreme. The more time I spend with Wombat, the more appreciation I develop for a middle ground between those two views!

(*Our third anniversary is three days before Wombat's birthday.)

(**But that was on another site... and besides, the wench is dead. (TS Eliot quoting a quote which I quote because in writing those entries I exorcised the self who needed to write them, so they are now erased... if that makes any sense to anyone but me))


Two and a half,
mother busy with a baby,
I went walking
through Canberra's suburbs,
stray dog for company-
shaggy breath in my hair.
Cops took turns
driving me home.
Outside Latham shops
the pharmacist grabbed me.
As a bribe to sit still
while she phoned my folks
she chose from a spinning rack
the cheapest, I s'pose.
I still remember,
sliding from cellophane,
a naked, stiff-limbed
plasticperfect female form,
brunette like my mother
and sister.
I kept Chemist Dolly for many years,
took her everywhere.
She never wore clothes.


Mum remembers Chemist Dolly's nakedness being the result of her unyielding figure, but I still cherish a romantic fondness for her, preferring to imagine her sometimes as my scapegoat effigy of sibling rivalry, and sometimes as my Boudicca of unfettered freedom. She was eventually relegated to the bottom of a toybox, and from there, I assume, she and her head probably took separate trips to the tip.

[RIP C.D.]

Mum also admitted that the cops got to know me, and brought me home so often that she was embarrassed. I can get no more details, though, as more recently it is a memory she prefers not to recall.

I have quite a few clear memories of the time before I was six... before the divorce (which is not the subject of this entry, being a whole jumbo-jet of misplaced luggage in its own right)... and the strongest ones all revolve around my solitary misadventures.

About a year after the Chemist Dolly incident, I remember being at the park, by myself, glorying in the flight of my swing, head back, arms outstretched, hair sweeping in the breeze. The park was a good ten minutes walk from our home. What was I doing there alone?

I toppled backwards off the swing and sat up, just in time for it to hit me in the face on its return - solidly enough to break my front tooth. Mum's comment was that she didn't recognise me when she saw me running down the path to our house, my face was so distorted by my tears.

As an adult I know what she meant, but little statements like that fester in the soul of a child. Unrecognised = unwanted? At one stage this line of thought would have been a cloud of black misery, but these days I look at it with intellectual curiosity, wishing I could be a fly on the wall that day, to understand what actually occurred, and how. Not for my own gratuituous ego-feeding so much as to avoid repeating the pattern with my son.

Another year, another memory... whispering in conspirational togetherness, I strap my trusting two-year-old little sister into her stroller. My days of solitary wandering are over. She is my companion. I will take her with me to share my adventures. Again, as an adult, I wondered where Mum was... and now as a mother myself, I answer... she was probably fixing lunch in the kitchen, putting on a load of washing, making beds, having a shower - any number of essential daily tasks - confident that her angelic daughters were playing quietly and in perfect safety.

Having accomplished my task, and with my sister firmly strapped into her stroller, I carefully open the child-proof latch on the verandah, and begin to push her down the concrete steps as I have seen my parents do. One step. Two steps. The stroller is heavier than I ever imagined and my four-year-old arms cannot hold it. With agonizing clarity I feel it slip from my grasp as my sister tumbles, screaming, onto the driveway. She hits her head, but no permanent damage is done. Mum comes running, and the episode joins the family mythology - the day I pushed my sister down the stairs. For years I felt guilty, believing that it had been an attempt to deliberately harm her. I was so relieved when the full memory finally surfaced and I recovered that sense of excitement and anticipation - the desire to share my freedom with her.

The question for me now is, how do I

  • nurture my son's independence and imagination
  • without exposing him to the feelings of anxiety and aloneness I have carried since those early beginnings
  • while still getting something done... occasionally...

I have no answers yet, and I know in many ways I am as bad at mothering as my own mother... and that he will adore me in spite of that, just as I adore my wonderful, frustrating, impossible Mum. The mistakes I make will be different from hers, and with God's help, Wombat will survive to adulthood without too many scars (physical or emotional). Perhaps I should pay more serious attention to the clear labels, like those at the start of this entry, instead of still looking for answers in the wind.


Six years old,
walking solitary to school,
I swept clean the sand
under trailing limbs of wattle
and bottle-brush.

Returning hours later,
I tried to read
what the trees
had written.


Since it has taken nearly two hours to write this and it is now 4am, I should also probably remember that my sleep is more important to Wombat than my blogging ;P

Friday, March 02, 2007

Near miss

I'm too tired to write this intelligently, so how about yesterday in point form?
  • Wombat refused his lovely porridge for breakfast, and wouldn't drink anything... except mummy milk... and he wanted LOTS of that
  • Wombat refused his morning nap, despite being so tired that he couldn't hold his head up, and at random moments it would CLONK into the floor while he was playing, resulting in many Wombat tears. (I think his teeth were the culprit... the next two have nearly cut through)
  • after much gnashing of maternal teeth about all the things I wanted to get done during this non-existant naptime, I finally got Wombat to sleep at 2pm.
  • 10 minutes later, the loudest thunderstorm ever arrived. Normally Wombat will sleep through a thunderstorm, but the power went out, his cd (Baroque classical) stopped, and he woke up
  • I sat down with him in the playpen for a cuddle and to tell him it was just a silly old storm and he should go back to sleep
  • that's when the house got hit by lightning. *cracklecracklecrackleBANG*
  • after checking that Yeti (who had been outside moving something out of the rain) was ok, I went back to Wombat-consoling, bidding a sad farewell to the possibility of any more napping that day
  • once the storm was over, we realised my computer wasn't working
  • GASP - one whole year of Wombat photos
  • desperate praying to St Anthony - patron St of lost things
  • about midnight, heading off to bed, had one last try to turn the computer on... it miraculously worked!
  • brand new modem was fried, though
  • now desperately making cds of photos
  • yeti bought new modem - now must share internet again...
  • hot water system also frazzled - crossing fingers insurance co. will replace
  • 3am... passing out now
  • teaching was interesting... year 3 are little monsters still... had to call principal to threaten them ;( year 4 are brilliant