Am I a bad mother if…

• I stick my finger up at a smartarse Master Eight when he’s not looking?
• I let him sleep on a towel when he’s had an accident at 3am?
• I steal money from his piggy bank to ‘loan’ to the Tooth Fairy?
• I dress Master Eight as the same book character every single year (even though his size 4 Superman outfit is now ridiculously tight [and Superman isn’t really a book character])?
• I occasionally make him wear shorts in winter because I haven’t learned to patch trousers?
• I eat most of the lollies from his party bag after he’s gone to bed?
• I offer to read every second page of his book so I can get back to doing nothing on the couch?
• I hide Li’l Fatty’s favourite book because I’ve simply had enough of ‘green sheep’?
• I often give him finger food, forgetting he had his fingers in his own poo earlier that day?
• I once pretended not to notice when he weed on the floor and rubbed his hand in it?
• I give my children fruit buns, convincing myself the word ‘fruit’ means it’s healthy?
• I am almost out the driveway before Master Eight has his seatbelt on?
• He occasionally goes to school with a sandwich that has nothing in it?
• I tell him Santa’s elves are watching even though it’s only April?
• I ‘accidentally’ vacuum up the teeny tiny Lego pieces that plague his bedroom floor?
• Wine o’clock sometimes starts well before their bedtime?
• I had the occasional wine during pregnancy?
• I tell Master Eight I’ll tape the rest of Big Brother – but don’t?
• I let him watch Big Brother in the first place?
• I time him to run and fetch the newspaper of a morning?
• I tell him he can barrack for whichever team he likes but keep buying him Collingwood pyjamas?
• I give Li’l Fatty Baby Panadol after convincing myself his bad mood is definitely ‘teething’?
• I let him play with the DVD player when his dad’s not home?
• I sometimes serve Master Eight two minute noodles for lunch AND dinner on a Saturday?
• I sometimes serve Li’l Fatty a tub of yoghurt for lunch AND dinner on any day?
• I consistently throw their ‘lost tooth’ and ‘new tooth’ photos up on Facebook? And still have Master Eight’s bloody first tooth hidden in my cupboard?
• I stalk them at night, sitting in the dark by their beds, listening to them breathe?
• I’d kill, steal or starve for them if absolutely necessary?

Nope, I have a feeling I’m pretty much the norm… 

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When push comes to shove

A boogie board sits in the carport at the bottom of our driveway.
To anyone passing, we look like a ‘beachy sorta’ family.
The kind that generates a whimsical smile, that makes you wish your own kids weren’t obsessed with the Wii and you weren’t obsessed with sun cancer.
And that you spent all of summer knee deep in either salt water or sand.
But behind that board lies a far different story.
It hides the tale of a six-year-old boy forced to surf it.
Poppy Pete and I had taken Master Six on a trip to St Helens late in summer.
Learner Dad was working and I was pregnant with Li’l Fatty so it was just the one from each generation.
Caught up in nostalgia from my own childhood trips up the coast, we checked in at the same old caravan park and headed off on adventure.
Peron Dunes is an area of seemingly eternal sand, rising randomly into soft mounds and steep hills.
Dune buggies and sand boarders aren’t an uncommon site.
My parents would take my brothers and I there every year to happily steer our boogie boards down the best slopes.
But Poppy Pete was no longer the young dad of our decades-ago family adventures and far from a child, I was now carrying one instead.
So, in our frail states, we had high hopes we could vicariously re-live our holiday adventures through poor little Master Six.
We ignored his cries of ‘sand in my eyes’ and ‘sand in my shoes’ as we battled the wind in search of the perfect slope.
“So you kneel here at this gap and just push yourself forward,” Poppy Pete said, explaining how to launch into a sand surf.
Terrified, Master Six looked down the giant slope at me, sitting and smiling in anticipation at the bottom.
“I don’t know if I want to,” he declared unhappily.
“You’ll be fine,” I yelled out, holding up my phone to film him.
Tentatively he pushed off.
The board hit the sand and ground to an immediate standstill, Master Six sliding a further metre or so beyond on his tummy.
He looked up at me, mouth full of sand, eyes full of despair.
“I can’t do it,” he implored.
We insisted he try again.
“You’ll love it,” I assured him.
After about seven more attempts, each with the same result, we called it a day.
That evening we went fishing.
We bought a line and bait and headed off to a jetty.
I recalled the flathead we’d haul in back in the day, gobbling it up for dinner at our campsite.
“I think I’ve caught one,” Master Six said excitedly, starting to wind in his line.
Suddenly he was pulled violently forward, stopping only moments before he toppled over the jetty.
The fishing line was gone.
We bought fish and chips for tea instead.
The next morning, we headed to Binalong Bay.
Strong winds forced us back into the car so we headed round to our other favourite beach – Beer Barrel Bay.
It was time, Poppy Pete and I decided, to introduce Master Six to the joys of boogie boarding.
He was going to love this!
“So you just wait until the wave is nearly on you and then jump on,” I explained to him, knee deep in the water, as he glanced fearfully behind him, teeth chattering, lips blue.
“Here comes one now… Go!” Poppy shouted.
To his credit, Master Six gave it his best but once his tummy hit the board, both he and it rolled over.
He came up spluttering and coughing.
“You said ‘go’ too late Dad,” I admonished. “He needed to get on it earlier than that. Look, try again honey.”
A few failed attempts later and my father and I had found ourselves in a shouting match.
“He’s got to paddle with his arms.”
“No, he just has to kick!”
“He needs to use his arms to keep his balance.”
“No, he just has to hold on tight.”
Hang on, where was Master Six?
We stopped and looked around.
He was off in the distance, on shore, making sandcastles.
The boogie board was floating out toward the horizon.
Poppy Pete and I looked at each other.
And trudged out of the ocean.
That was it then.
Master Six hadn’t surfed the sand or the ocean.
He hadn’t liked it, let alone loved it.
Had my brothers and I been older when we did it? Braver?
Did we enjoy it more because we had kids with us?
Or had the pressure simply been too much for Master Six?
Whatever the case, I felt ashamed.
I’d always prided myself on not being a pushy mother with the Master.
Even when all the other kids his age seemed to like the swings, I didn’t push it.
Even when all the other kids his age seemed to like bananas, I didn’t push it.
Even when all the other kids at Wiggle Bay didn’t mind getting wet, I didn’t push it.
I let him stand on the side in his dry little togs, content to watch.
How far should we push our kids?
Is there an occasion for pushing them at all?
When we know there’s something we absolutely loved as a kid, it’s hard not to force our offspring into trying it out too.
Whether it’s water slides or watermelon, ice skating or icy poles.
In my experience, they do eventually try – and like – most things.
Master Seven still doesn’t do bananas but he adores the swings.
And he’d dominate Wiggle Bay if I took him back there now.
He’ll probably one day have a crack at surfing.
Or then again, maybe he won’t.
Maybe that first lesson will be enough to deter him for life.

Making sense of dollars

I pulled up next to the For Sale sign and sighed.
$900,000.
I knew this because I’d looked it up on a real estate website earlier that week.
I gazed longingly at the home – eight bedrooms, indoor pool, right next to Master Seven’s school.
It was a house we didn’t need and couldn’t afford.
But I could dream.
“I’ve worked it out Mum,” Master Seven said, bumping me out of my reverie. “You and Learner Dad start saving as much money as you can and… [triumphant pause] I’ll give you all my pocket money so we can buy it.”
He gave me a look of grave sacrifice, a look that said: “You only ever had to ask Mum.”
Hmmm, I’d been trying to find something Master Seven could save for for ages.
The table in his bedroom was littered with crumpled five dollar notes and one and two dollar coins.
I wanted him to learn the value of money by wanting something.
Badly.
And then saving for it.
It hadn’t happened yet.
Not because my boy doesn’t want anything.
But because he wants for nothing.
Let me explain.
Until now, anything he’s wanted, he’s got.
If not for a birthday, for Christmas.
If not for Christmas, then just because.
If not from us, from a grandparent.
If not from one of them, then from… no it’s usually either us or them.
I’m not complaining about this.
Really, I’m not.
It is just telling that the only thing Master Seven can think of to save for is a new house.
The concept of money is a tough one for kids these days.
“Just use Learner Dad’s card,” Master Seven answered recently when I told him we couldn’t afford a campervan.
“You know there’s a money limit on his card don’t you?” I asked in reply.
He frowned, not understanding why this card, which Learner Dad used to pay for most things, couldn’t buy us whatever we wanted.
“When does it run out? Before you get to forty dollars?” he asked, squinting at the campervan’s forty thousand dollar price tag.
Learner Dad always uses a credit card – not because he has a cash flow issue but because he likes earning points.
To Master Seven, Learner Dad can buy anything simply by popping that card into a machine and pressing a secret number.
Although he learned all about cash and coins at school last year, Master Seven was of a generation that’d be using them less and less.
It was important he learned the implications of using a bank card, whatever sort it was.
“Every dollar your dad spends with that card he has to pay back to the bank out of his money from work,” I said. “And if he doesn’t pay it in time, he has to pay extra.”
Although he seemed to eventually understand why we couldn’t buy that one bedroom home on wheels, it seemed Master Seven still thought we could easily pitch in for an eight-bedroom house with a swimming pool.
I guess I need to work a bit harder on my cash courses.

New age mums

We’ve all heard it before.
“When I was your age I had three grown up children, a decades old marriage, the one job, and I’d only ever lived in two houses.”
It’s the line the generation before us trots out at every opportunity.
In my mum’s case, at my age she had a teenage daughter, two sons, aged 11 and 8, a 15-year marriage, still going strong, and a hairdressing career spanning almost two decades.
Me?
I’m a 35-year-old mother of two, one under a year old, unmarried, career on hold, and still undecided on whether I’ll have another baby.
Just the thought of it is a little tiring.
Mum had me, her first baby, at 22, right after her second wedding anniversary.
At 22, I was just breaking up with the first of many boyfriends.
I was about to invest in my first property and I’d moved into the first of half a dozen rentals.
I was saving like mad to head overseas to one of the dozens of countries I ended up visiting.
And I’d only just finished studying to enter the real world of work.
It’s simple.
Women these days have a lot more opportunities.
We study, we live and party with friends and flatmates, we travel, we become young professionals, we fall in love several times, we have sex with more than one person, and we draw on a lot of life experience by the time we have children.
I’m happy with the life I’ve been able to lead.
But sometimes I wonder if we’re really the lucky ones.
By the time my mum turned 40, her eldest (me) had become an adult.
By the time I turn 40, I could be still changing nappies.
By 50, all Mum’s kids had moved out, leaving her free to focus on her career, travel, marriage or social life.
(She chose the latter by the way.)
By the time I’m 50, Li’l Fatty will be an unemployed, alcohol-testing teen who still needs to be driven around and hides in his room with computers and/or teenage girls.
While Mum turned her empty nest into a mixture of craft, computer or guest rooms, our house will be littered with smelly socks and pasted with posters for years to come.
As for study?
Where would we find the time?
Travel?
Where would we find the money?
Work?
Ok, we still have to work…
If a woman of my generation was contemplating having children in her early twenties, she’d be told she should ‘live a little’ first.
Heck, even the ones that get married young these days wait a decade to have children.
But I believe there’s something to be said for what our mothers did.
Having kids young and living a little LATER.
You’re likely to be a fit and active mum and a reasonably youthful grandmother.
There’s a greater possibility you’ll one day meet your great-grandchildren.
And surely there’s something to be said for joining a silver haired tea-and-scone tour of Europe in retirement rather than a Contiki drinkathon in your twenties?
Or is that just my age showing?
Maybe it’s all simply a case of the grass looking greener on the other side.
And I must say it does.
Because, with all the kids gone, my mum actually has the time to get out there and water it.

Working through the guilt

“What do you mean I have to come back?”
“It’s his second runny poo Alison. I’m sorry but it’s the centre’s policy to call parents to pick up their children if they have had two bouts of diarrhoea.”
I was on the phone to Master Two’s childcare centre.
I’d just got to work.
On my first day.
At the Herald Sun.
It was my first job in Melbourne.
It had been hard to get.
I put down the phone and sighed.
Shit.
I looked at the clock.
I’d been there less than an hour.
Shit shit shit.
I went into my manager’s office.
“God Tim I’m so sorry to do this but I have to go,” I said. “Master Two’s carers just rang. It seems he has gastro.”
He looked at me like I was crazy, then shook his head quickly and said: “Of course, no worries. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Any working mother has at least one story like this.
I have dozens.
That’s my Herald Sun story.
My Network Ten one is that I was the only producer who’d have to bolt out of the newsroom BEFORE the news even finished to get to a then Master Three’s crèche before it closed.
Because of the train system in Melbourne, I was often late and had to pay by the minute.
And those were actually the easier days at Ten.
Before that I’d lived further away from work and so had hired one of Master Three’s carers to take him home for me when the centre closed and make him dinner.
I’d arrive home just in time to read him a story and put him to bed.
That was living and working in Melbourne as a single mother so things were probably a little more extreme for me then.
But even with a partner, wider family support, and the easy traffic of Hobart, life is still tough for working mums.
The Master began kindy at the same time I began working at Win.
But him being at school didn’t make my working life much easier.
It was then the guilt at leaving work before all of my colleagues, in this case before the news even STARTED, so I could pick Master Five up from After School Care.
That guilt didn’t dissipate after I left the newsroom either.
It increased when I ran into After School Care seconds before six to find he was the only kid left, sitting by his backpack, hungry and tired.
Writing this post actually makes me want to cry.
It’s easy to forget the working mum guilt when you’re blissed up on maternity leave, spending all your time with your baby and as much time as possible with his siblings.
You’ve effectively been given permission to be the best mum you can be for 12 whole months.
I know life won’t be as tough for this working mum as it once was.
I have four eager grandparents on standby.
And, more importantly, I have a partner.
Learner Dad works weekends so can spend my working days looking after our children.
It’ll make he and I ships in the night.
But all we can hope for is a happy harbour.

Driven to despair

Li’l Fatty rubbed his eyes and put his head on my shoulder.
After a busy morning laughing, bathing, playing and pooing (unfortunately in that order), he was exhausted.
It was time for his morning sleep.
I carried him into the kitchen to look for his dummy.
And then I saw it.
Sitting on the bench, completely out of place at this time of day – Master Seven’s lunchbox.
I desperately tried to call Learner Dad but he wasn’t answering.
I knew he’d be covering the cricket that day anyway and could hardly leave just to deliver his son’s lunchbox.
“Bugger it,” I muttered, grabbing the lunchbox and keys and heading for the car.
“You stay awake,” I ordered Li’l Fatty as I strapped him in.
Every parent knows how important this is.
Keeping your baby awake until you get home for his proper nap.
Should he or she drop off for even five minutes, he or she’ll wake believing sleep time’s over and spend the rest of the day cranky as hell.
We got Master Seven’s lunchbox to school without issue but, by the time we were headed home again, Li’l Fatty was struggling.
“Peekaboo!” I yelled, swinging my head round to look at him.
He smiled tiredly.
So I did it again.
After about five ‘peekaboos’, I checked myself.
What the hell was I doing?
I was playing this game while driving.
How long would my baby stay awake if I crashed head on into a garbage truck?
So I pressed the buttons to open both front windows and cranked the music up.
But it only made him more sleepy.
I was losing him.
I began singing hysterically – The Wiggles, Metallica, One Direction, whatever it took.
Pulled over at a red light, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
I looked over to see a woman in the driver’s seat of the car next to me.
She was waving her arms about like mad and I could hear her yelling as she glanced desperately in the rearview mirror.
I glanced behind her.
Yep, there was a car seat.
She was trying to keep her baby awake too.
As the light turned green, we two mothers lurched forward, doing our crazy driving dances and singing our stupid desperate songs.
Risking our lives and the lives of others on the road, all to keep our babies from dropping off.
I got Li’l Fatty home just in time.
Straight on the boob and out for the count.
What if I’d failed, you ask?
If he’d fallen asleep in the car?
Well that’s easy.
I would have accepted defeat.
And then driven to Launceston.

The care factor

“You mean she sends her kids to crèche even though she’s going to be at home all day?” a relative asked me recently.
I’d been talking about one of my friends, who was sending her toddler off to childcare a couple of days a week, even though she was at home with the baby.
Now I could have been talking about one of a dozen of my friends.
Because this is just the done thing.
Kids go to childcare even though they have a parent at home.
Is it right or wrong?
Well, for a start, is it really anyone else’s business?
I guess by putting it out there I’ve made it so, so let’s look at it.
Parents who send their kids to crèche all day every day while they go shopping or try to win big on the pokies?
That’s easy: wrong.
Mums who send their kids because they are tired and stressed with the new baby and simply can’t cope?
“Not in my day,” according to my relative. “If you’re going to be at home, why wouldn’t you look after your own child?”
But was there even a choice in her day?
How about parents who send their child to care because they feel he or she is becoming isolated and bored at home?
Many parents these days seem to enrol their kids in childcare because it has become less about babysitting and more about socialising and educating their children.
While, in the past, it might have been seen as a disadvantage for your little one to have to attend childcare, today many are seen as disadvantaged for NOT going.
Master Seven went to childcare for at least half a day a week from six-months-old.
It wasn’t a difficult decision – I really had no choice.
I’d been working as a freelance journalist and, when he was newborn, would either strap him to my chest or cart him in the capsule to each interview.
But, as time went on, the cute grins and sweet noises he’d charm the subjects with turned into screams and grunts to be put down so he could explore.
So, at six months old, off he went to care, for half a day a week.
I remember one Friday afternoon having all my work done within the first hour and deciding to use the rest of my free time seeing a movie.
I mentioned this to his carer when I went to pick him up and saw a dark cloud cross her eyes.
Was it the wrong thing to do?
He was only a baby after all.
As time went on, my little Master went more and more, varying from one to five days a week, depending on how much work I was getting at the time.
I wasn’t keen on enrolling him full-time and was lucky in my profession that I never had to.
Four centres and four years later, he graduated a well-adjusted, outgoing boy.
Was his behaviour influenced by childcare?
Undoubtedly.
He’d made little friends, tried new foods and picked up important social skills like sharing and packing up.
Because Master Seven started school well before Li’l Fatty came along, I haven’t had to worry about having time alone with the baby.
I’ve got it, six hours a day, five days a week, guilt-free and free of charge.
But would I have sent Master Seven to childcare if he’d actually been a toddler rather than a big kid when Li’l Fatty came along?
It’s hard to say.
On the one hand, I have the easiest baby ever (how else would I be able to write this blog?) so I’m not really sure I’d need to.
But, on the other, those few hours after school when I’m home with both boys… well, let’s just say I listen very intently for the sound of Learner Dad’s car in the driveway.
Will Li’l Fatty go to childcare?
With the end of maternity leave looming, it’s probably time for us to get his name on a waiting list.
There are two nannas with hands up to help out and Learner Dad has weekdays off, so it may not be necessary.
But then, if another Li’l Fatty were to come along, maybe we wouldn’t give it a second thought.