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?


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

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.

I am not a crook.

  “Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” – Sydney Harris.

I HOPE by the time you read this, the malady has passed. I hope by Monday I’m skipping with the exquisite relief that is only known to come after trials (plural) come blustering through your door, unapologetic and aggressive.

But today, I’m unwell. The kids have been sick too and the only good part about that is their thirst for nurture is dulled. Hot babies are generally quiet ones. If you don’t leave the face washer on their forehead for too long.

I had to drop my work in the hands of others but just before I did, I received an email. From a man. “Can I have your number or can you call me back?”

My stomach dropped through to the floor. I was about to receive a copyright bollocking. How much, I hear you ask, is a copyright bollocking? Well aside, from the frustration that despite all my best endeavours – the ongoing emails, the 2am calls to the US, the cheques, – I did not conquer copyright law, the cost incurred is $1400. Give or take.

I checked my records and saw that, indeed, I had secured and paid for licenses to all but one company. Despite the burning in my eyes, I put on my happy face and called him up. My “I’m just a girl” voice didn’t seem to satiate. Figured as much.

I could hear the authority in the smooth silence of his phone line. No screaming children or store-music. Not wedging his phone between his shoulder and chin while he irons, cooks, wipes a bum. I could imagine the vhooooop of his heavy oak door closing as he took the call from that vapid little thing in Queensland.

“I can’t deal with this right now. I have a family emergency. I will email you on Monday.”

I have a family emergency too. You’re it.

I rang my husband and cried – something I save for horrendous cash-blowouts. This setback – hey, it’s only money – has a flow-on effect that I know will prevent me from sleeping till Monday.

And I need my sleep.

My husband’s 30th birthday is on the weekend. We have relatives staying – fresh, full-bloodied rellies whom I adore but am stricken to consider that I may shed undignified tears in front of them (again!). (Must not bow to FIL’s well-meant offerings of alcohol. Must say no. Drunk mummy in 1920’s gangster get-up is Not. Cool. Flashback to younger days when my nephew watched an inebriated aunty tackle his father with due concern… Must not drink.)

When you’re feeling this way everything seems insurmountable. Everything conspires against you. While I have possibly the biggest deadline of my life looming (probably shouldn’t call it that since I’m trying to stress less), I’m also juggling work (relaunch anyone?), school lunches (a new horror that I already hate. Am I really meant to do this until graduation?!), book PR, website upgrade (which could be as simple as a phonecall that I never seem to get round to making), trying to exchange my husband’s birthday present, worrying about a new vaccine that I’m meant to book for my daughter – shouldn’t I research first?, returning my doctor’s calls who (three times now) books me in when my husband is working and I can’t leave the children with anyone, finding out what happened to a refund I was meant to get for the last present I bought my husband, visit two banks once a week to pay a painter who may be traipsing amongst snakes for the next fortnight because our tenants have – apparently – lost their lawnmower, and remember all the other little details… such as not breaching anymore copyright laws.

Of course, there’s all the good stuff. The fact I have the most important deadline looming in my life. Kids (one of whom, when asked what he did at school today, replied: “I didn’t push a pencil in anyone’s eye.” To which I effused: “Mummy’s so proud of you!”). The idea that buried somewhere in the recesses of my poor, poor brain lies an answer to any conundrum presented.

But as the saying goes (see above)… woe is begot from people who are strangers unto themselves. I think of this everytime I’m assailed with furious optimism in people’s Facebook status updates. And when I’m crying on my desk. I’m trying with every inch of my being that wants to be in a hot tub, to find an unedited – free from litigation – version of myself here.

So, what’s up with you? Sinking or swimming? Floating?!

Playground politics and angry parents

HE shouted “HEY!” in the unmistakable tone of a father who’d just seen his young child get barrelled over by another, much larger, kid.

Every parent waiting in the wings of the “baby water slide” flinched, watched on concerned and chewed on their lips to see how the dad played out his instinctive anger.

His little girl appeared unhurt but he scooped her up, spoke softly to her and she soon broke into tears. Yes, she had been hurt. Her dad bore witness to it and she was given permission to howl in delayed dismay.

There’s always a delicate art of diplomacy in the playground, or water park, or anywhere children can run smack into another child, of how one parent handles another person’s children.

I’ve written about it before – as I circumnavigated my own clumsy way into parenthood – but something was different this time. I think I’ve managed to reach a reasonable peace with it.

It’s no surprise given how many hours I spend per week in a playground, playgroup, kids’ gym, etc. And I can watch, with some detachment now, the parents not quite at ease with the unsteady etiquette of reprimanding another’s child. I can even dole out some teacher-style lecture for the children – mine and others – when the need arises.

But I began reading The Slap this week and started thinking about the “modern world” of parenting. Don’t for a second think I would condone anyone smacking someone else’s child (especially anyone with such simmering aggression – someone who is one bad day away from causing serious bodily harm to another human being… but I digress), but I did begin to realise just how dramatically the landscape of parenting – in particular, discipline – has changed.

I smack my children.

I smack small bottoms when I am breaking up a physical fight and I smack small hands when they’re playing with garage door remotes while their sibling wanders about under it, completely oblivious. It’s a scary thing to confess because, of all the mummy bloggers I read (and I read a few), they’re predominantly anti-smacking. I haven’t always done this and I doubt it will be carried on into school years.

I also grew up with the cane. Physical discipline was not uncommon to my primary school peers and I.

So, in my measly 30-odd years, we’ve gone from the cane allowed to be used by teachers to parents not even feeling they can smack their children.

It’s a major leap from older parents who see a tantrum-throwing child and whisper “that child deserves a good smack” to the helpless young mother of the child having a meltdown feeling judged by her own peers if she handles it with anything less than reasoning and concern.

I don’t have any answer to this. I certainly don’t judge parents who don’t smack, I don’t judge parents who give time-outs (which I also do), I don’t judge parents who bribe with chocolate (because I’ve done that too). I do believe each parent knows their child – and exactly what they’re dealing with at any given moment – better than anyone standing on the outside.

I think it’s a shame that such criticism exists in the parenting sphere because, let’s face it, it’s a tough gig and we’ve all had days where we could have done a better job.

I felt for the dad, schlepping his miserable daughter around on his hip at the water park. Because he seemed so out of his depth. What can you possibly do with that red swirl of emotion when you’re dealing with a mere child? A child, overexcited at the bottom of a water slide who wasn’t watching where he was going and happened to collide into his little daughter?

I watched him throw angry glances around, undoubtedly looking for the offending child’s parents. No 0ne seemed to “own” the kid and he was left with an impotent anger.

Perhaps it was a good thing the child’s parents weren’t nearby and the incident was allowed to slip into obscurity.

It’s one thing to shout “hey” at a kid, another to impugn an unsuspecting adult – perhaps with their own pent-up parenting frustrations – with deriliction of duty.

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