Great Expectations and Familial Frustrations

Dear Aunt Gertrude,

Thank you for your recent email. I’m glad the rash is slowly improving, and yes, isn’t the price of stamps outrageous these days.

We are all very well, since you ask. Bob and I heeded your well-intentioned warning that having two children is ‘dreadfully bourgeois’, so two weeks ago we welcomed our third child, Kafka, into the family. He is thriving well and already a great sleeper. I took the kids out shopping the other day, only to come home and find little Kafka still asleep in his cot! Which just shows that you were spot on in saying that babies need to learn to self-settle from an early age. Thanks for the tip about converting the roof space into a nursery. You were right, the sound of Kafka self-settling is much less of a distraction now that he is up there.

As I know you don’t approve of stay-at-home mothers, you’ll be please to hear that I have already gone back to work full time. I have landed an excellent position as the Head of Human Resources with the Israel Space Agency. This does mean that I have to spend my working week in Tel Aviv, but on the plus side the kids get to spend quality time with their father every day before and after his 10-hour shift at work. The other day, I thought I overheard Bob muttering to one of his friends something about not having the time to scratch his arse, so between you and me, Aunty, I don’t think he fully appreciates what modern fatherhood is all about. Anyway, Greer, now 4, and Proust, 2, have become well trained in making their own breakfast and getting themselves and their baby brother onto the bus to daycare on those mornings when Bob has to work an early shift. I’m so glad I took your advice to instill an independent and self-reliant ethic into the children from an early age.

I know you are one for intellectual activities, so you’ll be reassured to hear that I manage to fly home from Israel every weekend, which gives me plenty of time to engage in educational outings with the children. Only last Saturday, the children and I enjoyed a delightful trip to the Museum of War. We all found the displays incredibly enriching and informative, not least Proust, who ran up and down the exhibit room screaming and waving a toy rifle, which I think all the museum visitors agreed was a powerful and moving rendition of the storming of the beaches at Gallipoli. Out of the mouths of babes, as you would say.

Aunty, I do remember you once telling me that motherhood would drive me insane unless I exercised my brain regularly, so to this end I have begun studying towards a PhD in Ethno-ornithology. It’s just for fun, really, and the 250,000 word thesis I am writing, provisionally entitled Me, My Bird, And I, is hardly literature, but it keeps me entertained and flexes those little grey cells you are always on about.

Greer seems to have caught the writing bug from me recently and has been busy penning haikus which she plans to self-publish towards the end of the year. I’ve reprinted one of her most recent ones here:

Thunder fills my soul;
An impromptu gust of wind:
Beans for lunch again.

Thank you, Aunt Gertrude, for all your words of wisdom over the years on the subject of how Bob and I should bring up our children. We feel eternally indebted to you for your guidance. For someone who never had children of her own, you are certainly an expert on how other people should raise theirs.

Love,
Natalia

P.S. Dear Aunt, none of the above is true. Bob and I still only have two kids, and have no intention of going through the newborn stage ever again, thank you very much. Even with two, I have not returned to work, and some days don’t even get out of my pyjamas.

It's Only Motherhood (But I Like It)

It’s Only Motherhood (But I Like It)

I am not studying towards a PhD, and certainly not contemplating going back to work until I can look in the mirror without bursting into tears.

Greer is not writing haikus, although she may one day become a celebrated graffitti artist, if the state of our lounge room wall is anything to go by (note to self: keep all Sharpies in the bath tub. It is the only place Greer has an almost pathological aversion to).

The most educational outing I have engaged the children in recently was a trip to the local library, which ended rather unhappily when Proust stole the librarian’s glasses from her desk and ran around the building screaming, before removing his nappy and pooing on the carpet. Needless to say, I posted our outstanding library books back to them rather than step foot in there again.

Love always,
Natalia


“Perhaps, if you weren’t so busy regarding my shortcomings, you’d find that I do possess redeeming qualities, discreet as they may be. I notice when the sky is blue. I smile down at children. I laugh at any innocent attempt at humor. I quietly carry the burdens of others as though they were my own. And I say ‘I’m sorry’ when you don’t. I am not without fault, but I am not without goodness either.” — Richelle E. Goodrich, Author


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Time To Write? I’ll Just Check My Schedule

Since I started blogging again, my thoughts have turned to how to find the time in my busy life in which to write. You know, in between all those other things that stay-at-home parents do, like watching Dr Phil (*see my previous blog post) and painting miniature daffodils onto our fingernails. As luck would have it, I was hard at work scrolling through my Twitter feed recently (follow me at _nataliaclara) when I came across a tweet with a link to a fantastic article on how to schedule writing time into your busy modern lifestyle. The premise of the article was that you divide up your waking hours into half hour-long blocks, fill in the “non-negotiable” activities – such as showering and eating, presumably – and then use all the blank spaces to schedule in your “desirable” activities. You know, learning Japanese, kayaking, rescuing abandoned puppies, that sort of thing.

Game to give anything a go as long as it involves spreadsheets and NOT ACTUALLY WRITING, I drew up my own weekly schedule. My day starts at 5am, when my littlest angel, Squeaky, wakes for a feed before resettling for another hour or two of sleep. 5.30am to 6am is reserved for knocking back as many coffees as I can before his elder sister, Bubba, wakes up. My personal best currently stands at seventeen. 6am to 8.30am is largely taken up with the usual morning tasks, including (but not limited to) making, serving, and tidying up after breakfast, packing a bag for the day if we plan to go out, discovering and removing a piece of toast from between the couch cushions, and chasing Bubba around the house in an attempt to get her dressed. Which, most mornings, is like trying to put a straightjacket on an octopus. So far, so ordinary.

I'll get around to writing just as soon as I've tidied up.

I’ll get around to writing just as soon as I’ve tidied up.

But as I progressed through my day, the waters became muddied. I mean, was I supposed to include everything I do as a parent of two littlies? Every bottle feed, every nappy change, every time I spend twenty minutes sponging projectile vomit out of the rug? The problem with parenting babies and young children is that so much of what we do is so mundane and repetitive (sorry) that it barely deserves a mention – that is, until we actually sit down and analyse our day, wondering where all the time goes. “What do you do all day?” is a phrase stay-at-home parents hear far too often. Well, gee, when you put it like that, not much, I guess. I picked peanut butter out of my kid’s ear and put all the crayons back in the box for the umpteenth time. Oh and, you know, I ate a sandwich while wandering about the house looking for the remote control (if you’re wondering, it was in the pot plant. For some reason, the remote control is always in the pot plant). I didn’t find the time to rebalance my share portfolio, or train for that fun run I stupidly signed up to three months ago, or write. So, yeah, not much.

But back to those blank spaces in my schedule. Um, what blank spaces? For, while my day begins at the bum crack of dawn when Squeaky’s sweet, melodic chirrup gently awakens me from my slumber, it also ends at around 8pm when I fall asleep in front of My Kitchen Rules. Yes, you read right. My day ends an hour after the cherubs have been put to bed. Not are asleep, mind you. Which is why 7pm to 7.30pm on my schedule is reserved for Sitting Out The Back With My Husband, Inhaling Wine And Pretending We Can’t Hear Our Children Screaming. I mean Self-Settling.

This guy. Partly to blame for my embarrassingly early bedtime.

This guy. Partly to blame for my embarrassingly early bedtime.

All right, I tell a lie. I found one blank space on my schedule. One break in my week when I am not getting the kids fed/dressed/undressed/bathed/into or out of bed, doing household chores, ferrying the kids to swimming or dance class, or checking my Facebook feed. Which is a legitimate thing if you’re a writer, so don’t start on me. That hour (or two, if I’m experiencing a lucky break) rolls around every Wednesday afternoon, when Bubba is at daycare and Squeaky is (hopefully) having his afternoon nap. I’ve motored through the day’s chores during his morning nap, you see, and now find myself with the delicious prospect of nothing to do except make myself a cup of tea, power up my laptop, and write. Bliss. Er, yeah, except not. Because last week Squeaky decided not to nap at all in the afternoon. And the week before that, I spent this precious hour not writing, not thinking about writing, not even Tweeting about how much writing I wasn’t doing. Instead, I wasted the only hour to myself I get every week updating the kids’ baby books. For those of you without kids, baby books are those delightful albums in which parents lovingly inscribe every momentous occasion in their offspring’s early years, accompanied by meaningful and not at all out of focus photographs. Which was all very well with my first child. Bubba’s book is nearly complete. Every time she burped, or did some other very clever thing no other baby in the history of humanity had ever done, I would whip out the baby book and fill in the relevant section. With the date and time and everything. Unfortunately, once your second kid comes along, your priorities change. Now, when Squeaky burps, I’m more worried about removing half-digested mango from the couch, the floor, our clothes, and the dog. So, when I pulled out his baby book the other day, I was dismayed to find that it was nearly bare, hence the hour spent gluing in out of focus photos and making up the dates of when he first did stuff, because frankly I couldn’t remember.

Anyway, my point is, I had an hour to myself, and I didn’t spend it doing what I felt I should have been doing. I didn’t spend it doing anything remotely writerly at all. Because, if I’m honest, it was nice to switch off and do something absorbing, but that didn’t require me to think a great deal. Which, if you’re a parent, you’ll agree can be quite nice.

Since then, I have ditched my weekly schedule and instead found the perfect solution to my lack of writing time woes. This blog post was composed nearly word for word in my head over the space of two days while I did other tasks that didn’t require a great deal of brainpower. Such as chopping fruit for the kids’ breakfast, shopping, having a conversation with the hubby (only joking, dear). Then it was a simple matter of typing it all up as quickly as possible in one of those rare, sacred moments when Both Kids Were Napping At The Same Time. For the foreseeable future, I think that’s how all my writing will have to occur. So, if you bump into me at the shops and I’m wandering around with a vacant look on my face, or you’re telling me about your day and I’m nodding vaguely and saying “I totally agree” at the wrong moment, you’ll know that I haven’t lost the plot, I’m just hard at work creating literary magic. Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.