Getting it right in an emergency

I CAN tell you if my child has a temperature without a thermometer. But if I did use a thermometer, I’d probably forget what the average temp is anyway.

If I see dark circles under their eyes or notice behavioural changes, I’ll disguise a quick forehead check with a brush of their fringe or press my face against them.

I don’t know if this is gut instinct, mother’s intuition or a a load of bullshit… it’s how I do it.

Frankly I don’t care if you think that makes me an incompetent mother because I rocked it in a crisis last week.

When my son woke up coughing – hacking – I didn’t know it was croup. I didn’t know what croup sounded like at all.

All I knew was he was fighting for breath and I wasn’t going to fuck around. Speeding to the hospital, he started to sound better and I considered turning back at the round-about.

I was glad I didn’t because his coughing returned as I sprinted, him in my arms, through the hospital carpark.

My decision was further validated when the triage nurse ushered me straight through the waiting room to the emergency ward before I could even utter a word.

Phew, I thought, I’m not over-reacting, this IS serious.

And then I realised… this is SERIOUS.

He was experiencing severe respiratory distress. He was growing pale. His chest was concave, he was working so hard to suck in air. I had stopped watching him to focus on the road, on getting him into emergency, on getting help.

He uttered two words: “what’s happening?”. Meeting his eyes, I calmly told him he had croup, that these people would help and he must do as he was told.

Now, there’s a certain point when you realise the fragility of the human state. As three doctors and two nurses shouted a litany of words I didn’t understand, I panicked briefly at the possibility that they might not stop this; as you do when the professionals look worried.

But he came good and only then did I let tears streak my face.

“You’re braver than I am,” I told him – boosting his morale while distracting myself from The Fear. You know the one. The “my life revolves around this little person right here” fear.

It was intense. It was an experience I was incredibly ill-equipped for but I did the right thing. Just one of so many things you can’t know about parenting – the decisions and consequences you’ll have to make and accept – the things you’ll never see coming.

My only clue that croup was coming was a runny nose. That’s it.

And now, though I’ve had barely any sleep, I’ll lie awake listening for a cough. Listening for the sound of their breathing.

Thanking God for whatever it was that stopped me from making a u-turn at that round-about and taking him home.

What’s been your “I got that right” parenting moment?


Mid-week review

IT was kind of kismet that the first thing I review would be a range of children’s shampoo and conditioners.

Why, you ask? Well, because I’ve continued to use Johnson’s baby shampoo despite the fact my children are now aged two and four.

Living in the past much?

Anyway, I had considered that, while the smell of baby’s hair is SHEER delight, it was perhaps time for a change. Especially given one child has lots of hair that he refuses to have properly cut off and the other is a basically a headful of ringlets.

Exhibit A:

So, we used the new No More Tangles shampoo, conditioner and anti-tangle for the first time last week.

Aside from a stupid manufacturing blunder which meant my husband had to stab open the conditioner with the kitchen scissors, it was Good.

Husband deemed it smelt like watered-down watermelon. Not a bad thing. And I, in my relative fug of tired mummy-brain trying to wash two kids, thought it was actually called No More Apples. Because that’s what you want out of a shampoo, yes?

For some reason, I didn’t question that til I later thought “I better check the name for reviewing purposes”.

My son sang “popcorn head” as I washed his hair, which I take as a good sign. And both kids’ hair was much more manageable than usual.

My kids are probably thanking God for this small mercy, because me with a comb is a bit like Poseidon and his trident. All aggression and threats and stabbing combs into scalps because they won’t BLOODY STAND STILL.

I give Johnson’s No More Tangles range, three out of five stars.

You can find them in the baby aisle of your supermarket.

Courts separate mother and child

THE SCENARIO: A woman’s seven-year-old son puts his hand inside his mum’s shirt in public. She is charged with indecent dealing with a minor. Community Services removes the boy. That was in December, 2008.

When the NewsMail reported the court case today, they expected the mother and son to be reunited in two to four weeks.

There are so many variables that I don’t know, but by her own admission she had an issue with boundaries since she was abused as a child.

But for more than three years this child’s been away from his mother. Because he put his hand in her shirt.

That, to me, is terrifying.

That someone can deem an act inappropriate and remove your own child from your care for so long. It’s incredulous when I’ve seen other children suffer much worse neglect at the hands of their parents and their children are returned to them, time and time again.

It saddened me to read of the distress this caused the boy and his mother.

I can’t even begin to imagine.

But I wonder two things: one) was his hand (I hate using this word) groping or merely resting on her breast? And was this a measure of comfort that had been happening for years?

Is it really any different to the small child who hides their face in your lap when they’re embarassed?

That train of thought begs the question that breastfeeding mothers have been arguing for years – what is a breast? It’s not just about sexual objectification. It’s a source of nourishment and comfort and it CAN be a source of fascination to older children.

If the son did this to his dad, the situation would have been very different. So to what extent do women – do mothers – have to defend themselves when it comes to their chest?

Secondly, how do we decide when something is inappropriate? And does it depend on a child’s age? I can understand, if the act really was awkward for those who witnessed it, that they felt obliged to say something, do something. After all, what if something much worse is going on behind closed doors?

It can be incredibly difficult to trust your instinct when it comes to another person’s child. It takes guts to act on your convictions. But what if you’re mistaken?

Three-plus years is a long time for a family to pay the price for a social mishap.

Everything about this story shocked me. But what stuck with my subconscious was the ability to lose your children at the hands of others; of other parents, of the courts and community services.

The night I read this, I dreamt that I’d left my daughter napping in one town as I drove to another. I was meant to put her in the car, but in my haste forgot, and two hours later I was beside the highway, an hysterical mess.

I had no one to call on to check on her before I could get back and I knew I had to ring the police. But what if they considered me a neglectful parent? Would I ever get her back?

I rang the police and they checked on her and they told me they’d take her back to the station with them…. “where I could come pick her up”. I wept with relief.

I’d love to know what others think. Was this action warranted? Would you have reported it? Have you seen anything that you felt needed to be reported? Or have you been reported for something?


Digital Parents Blog Carnival

Big bum not ‘Germaine’ to the argument

DID Germaine Greer throw herself on the sword last night on ABC’s Q&A?

If you haven’t seen the clip – where she says our female Prime Minister has a big arse – you can see it here.

But her asinine remarks went viral overnight. People ousting the 73-year-old feminist as out of touch. But she did something countless women have tried recently, and failed, to do.

She united people under a feminist agenda by doing something so against the grain of a women’s movement that we simply couldn’t ignore it. And she did it to the highest office held by a woman.

She couldn’t have affronted women anymore if she were Kyle Sandilands.

I’ve talked before about what it takes to be a feminist. But what stops most women in their tracks is the bad publicity of the “feminist movement” – a bunch of unfriendly, rigid, self-serving women.

I know I don’t want to be seen that way.

Feminism has become captive to a social attitude that is only appealing to a minority, when it was once a free platform for discussion on topics that mattered to all women.

As Naomi Wolf wrote in Fire With Fire, “Many women identify feminism with specific issues that may or may not include them, rather than with a theory of self-worth that applies to every woman’s life without exception.”

“Is it about abortion? Well, I am not certain I know when  life begins, a woman might say. Is it about lesbianism? Well, I am a married woman. It’s for middle-class white women, isn’t it? I am working class. Is it about fighting against men? I am an Afro-Caribbean woman and there is no way I’m going to put down an Afro-Caribbean man. It’s anti-pornography right? I  don’t believe in censorship, and I don’t want anyone telling me what to do in my bedroom. Is it about not wearing makeup? I like to look good. Is it restricted to women? Well, I am a parent, and I care about my daughter, but I am a man. Is it about sexual abuse or rape? That may have happened to me, but I am interested in putting it behind me, and I don’t want to define myself as a victim.  (p67)

With such a diverse range of issues and so many conflicted views, people opted out altogether and, it seems to me, the cause of women’s rights has stalled.


Last year the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report showing women earn 11% less than men per hour, on average. And that, when you barge through the glass ceiling of corporate Australia, some of the gaps there were almost 50 per cent between men and women (according to Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick last year).

And when we wind back to part-time – as is often the case when you start having kids – women’s rate of pay drops to 64 per cent of a man’s income (working the same hours).

So, yes, Germaine Greer did a shitty thing. But has she reignited a debate worth having? Most definitely.

It now remains to be seen whether this sudden defiance will translate into other issues.

Whether it was her intention to do so or not, I’m glad for her remarks. I’m glad to see so many men and women stand up and defend Julia Gillard. I bet Anna Bligh is wishing GG had a go at her dress sense.

Holding on: thin threads and tight smiles

The actual tagline for Feral Bells is "Because anyone can fall in love". It's been changed here to reflect mummy's mood.

MY two separate sides crashed together during a radio interview last week. In my very best “phone voice” (louder, an octave higher and filled with witty – maybe just silly – repartee) I discussed my book, my work, my ambition, how far I’d come since I left my family home.

And then my daughter woke up.

She couldn’t find me. Of course she couldn’t, I was hiding in the carport hoping to get through a 15-minute phone call without tears or demands for yoghurt or my son’s shouts that my daughter had “JUST DONE A POO ON THE GRASS, MUM!”

I could hear her coming and somehow, while my brain was racing with thoughts like “do I lock myself in the granny flat? Will I get reception if I run down the street a little? Is that abandonment?”, I managed to keep speaking about my book in that same “isn’t it wonderful” voice.

She found me and her cries intensified, leaving me completely satisfied that I had caused her much distress for a quick bit of publicity.

I apologised to the interviewer, probably laughed, plonked her on the couch and ripped open a packet of Tiny Teddies, all the while thinking “fuck my life”.

And that’s really unfair, isn’t it?

I’ve written a book – an actual, 70-odd-thousand word book, self-published it, had it picked up by a distributor and even managed to talk on local radio about it. How lucky am I? I mean, it was bloody hard work too, but I’m still very lucky. Why can’t I roll about in that happy moment?

If I have chosen to work from home, shouldn’t I embrace the chaos it creates rather than squashing it? Why can’t I laugh honestly and point out all these wonderful imperfections? After all, I chose this. Not my children. I chose to make my parenting a statement – “I can do it all with my kids, they’re that important to me”.

Instead I’m freaking out, smiling between gritted teeth and hoping the words tripping delightedly from my tongue are not the same colour as my frustrated, bleak thoughts. Desperately hoping I don’t sound like the dithering SAHM that I can sometimes be.

…Even more desperately hoping that my work ethic and cranky pants don’t leave little pin-pricks of scars that a psychologist will one day point out on my children’s souls.

Every day I must decide whether I want to stay on this punishing treadmill or don an apron and get serious about being a mother. Would that make me a better mother? Or infinitely worse?

But instead of deciding once and for all, I inch through every day, surreptitiously moving the goal posts a bit further back and wondering about it all again tomorrow.

The idea that I won’t surrender my own goals is now more a sad fact, than a celebration. It’s not easy and the kids don’t love wandering shopping malls as I sign books for people that mean nothing to them.

My son hates my books the same way I used to hate the smell of beer on my mother who worked as a barmaid.

I can’t really know if my children will come to appreciate having me for a mother or whether they’ll instead search for people who would make that sacrifice.

As I’m writing this, I’ve been asked to “take my fairy dress off”, “come and see the pink thing on my bike”, “read me the Christmas story”, “put my fairy dress on” and listened to my son’s beatboxing and I’m trying so hard to give them the attention they deserve. To not get angry as my words, wading through muddy PND run-off and dripping down to my fingertips, flinch back to the dark recesses of my brain.

You can listen to the interview if you like. It’s almost all there. He left in my daughter’s cries and my apparent delight. He took out the Tiny Teddies. And I’m glad for that. Even though I was exasperated, he saw the life in that moment. Appreciated the exchange from worker to mother.

But there’s one shuddering breath in that interview that says it all.

In that one breath I can hear all my anxieties, all my frustrations, all the FMLs unvetted… I’ll let you see if you can hear it too.

The mouths of babes

ONE of the best parts of being a parent is being their sole source of all information … for a little while at least.

These little people are only just now learning all kinds of random stuff that you assume people know and I am regularly reminded that they must still learn things like: not only what an anchor is, but why a boat can’t just stop in the first place.

It’s challenging to find not only the simplest way to describe what words like “guardian” mean but to also find a frame of reference that you know they’ll respond to. And after that, you need to vet any response that an over-analytical four-year-old could begin to find concerning.

For example, the word guardian is part of a simple prayer that leaves out the suggestion that the kids could “die before they wake” and instead focuses on the presence of divine intervention.

Hence the term “guardian”. It took me about three days of Son asking what “gardenia” meant when I realised he was refering to the prayer. I tried to explain about people who look after you, and then, just as I was about to launch into a spiel of angels (which the prayer also mentions), I considered how horrifying it could be to a four-year-old that someone he couldn’t see was watching him. Particularly given the prayer is said at bedtime.

So, we left it at a simple explanation: people who watch out for other people.

Then he asked what “about” meant.

Won the battle, but obviously losing the war here.

But I love that my husband and I are posed with such questions. It is a chance to reflect on what such things mean to us and what lesson we want our children to draw from our answers.

Though sometimes it just gets too difficult. Take this one for example… Our son is aware of the fact my husband and I once went skydiving (many moons ago).

“Where was I?” He asked.

“You weren’t born yet.”

“But where was I?”

“Um, you were what’s called a soul.”

“Was I with Nanny and Pappy?”

“No… you were,” I look at husband, recalling a psychic telling us we had two souls around us. “You were with us.”

“In the plane?”


“Did I jump too?”

Sigh. “Yes.”

While I went with religion as a nightly comforter (as well as Dr Seuss), I went with science when he asked “why are we on earth?”

“Because it’s the only planet with air and water.”

“And icecream,” he added. Indeed.

It’s amazing to watch a little person learn. I watched my son recently use a computer for the first time. His concentration was impressive, his dexterity with the mouse a little confronting. I didn’t use a computer until I was about 12 years old. He’s four.

Simple things like “how do you put avocado on bread” and “what’s an email?” are also beyond endearing. Generally my daughter focuses on emotion: “you will make me cookies and that will make me happy!”. She’s big on being happy.

In fact, when I regaled her with YouTube clips of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” (since she always sang it in the car), she was transfixed. I could see the bewilderment and concern in her eyes. She watched him sing in pain and the questions came thick and fast. “Why is he sad? Why is she leaving him? Why is he yelling?”

It was all I could do, not to lift her away from the monitor and explain his pain wasn’t her burden. Let’s hope she never marries an artist!

Blink and you’ll miss it

THE school bell, normally no more than background noise, rang in my ears and all the way down to my heart.

Next year, when I hear that bell from our quiet little playgroup sandpit, I’ll know my son has been let out for little lunch.

The thought is asphyxiating some days. That for five days of the week he’ll be a student. That for five days, he’ll be away from my watchful eye and my wide-open arms. That for five days, he’ll fend for himself in a playground teeming with children.

This is unfamiliar terrain for us both.

I am not the mother of a school kid. I’m only just getting used to the idea of being a mother of a preschooler. I haven’t mastered the drop-off yet. I still flounder while child-care-savvy mums dart past me like I’m moving in slow motion. Because I am.

I’m waiting for the world to stop and realise its mistake. To tell me, “you’re right, he should be home with his mummy”. Take another few years off. Break up your days into naps and meals and blocks and walks in the pram. Bliss about in that early childhood routine that runs on 15-minute intervals and ABC4Kids.

But that’s not going to happen because life is not like that. Life moves on, sans umbilical cord, and I must help him learn this too. Even when I’m physically itching to hold him tight.

It was only four years ago that he became mine. I blinked and this wiry baby became a methodical toddler. I took out two nights to have a second baby and when I came back, he was a child who actually slept through the night without me.

Now he’s the fastest kid at playgroup, the tallest at the library story time… I know, with him being in a classroom for the next 13 years, he’s going to grow and stretch and become this person I have less and less influence over.

I see friends posting photos of their first newborns lately and I can remember that giddy time: when you couldn’t drag your eyes away from them. Revelling in the wonderment that YOU created this. It’s lucky we have that, because all too soon that precious bundle is putting on his own shoes and socks and waiting for you in the car.

When you’re a mother to a newborn, school lunches and teacher-parent evenings is like a foreign land. You don’t live there and you don’t speak the language. Much like motherhood was when we worked nine-to-five.

No-one explains in vivid detail the speed at which your children will no longer be children. Sure, elderly women at the check-out will pinch your arms and beg you to “cherish every moment”. But you can’t hear them. They’re speaking in tongues – riddles from a place beyond nappies. Where their babies became teenagers, then adults, then parents. We have no clue.

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