Here’s to all the 70s kids…

I am a kid of the seventies and this is what I remember – what makes me smile each time these memories are recalled…

I grew up in a time when televisions didn’t have remote controls. Changing the TV station required someone to get off the brown vinyl couch, walk over to the set and turn the dial onto the other four channels that were available. There was no channel surfing.

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Families usually had one car, at least four kids, one bathroom and one toilet to share which resulted a l-o-n-g wait to use the loo, and a fairly quick visit requiring expert holding of breath, if the person prior to you had an upset stomach. Every family toilet had a chenille lid cover and matching floor mat, usually in mission brown, burnt orange or lime green.

We had a small collection of clothes and shoes, neatly divided into school wear, outside wear and ‘good’ outfits. God forbid we should wear a Sunday best outfit into the backyard and get it dirty, or worse, torn. My dresses were decorated with bows, ruffles and pouffed shoulders.

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The coffee machine in my house consisted of a kettle that whistled when the water had boiled atop a gas flame, and a glass jar of Nescafe blend 43. A ‘milky’ coffee was one with two dashes of milk instead of one. Lattes were unheard of.

My parent’s wine came out of a cask or flagon -Riesling or Moselle, Shiraz or Claret. For dinner parties a bottle was purchased, or the cask wine poured into a crystal decanter that sat on the shelf gathering dust for eleven months of the year, simply because it was ‘too good’ to use every day.

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My mum’s dinner parties consisted of at least three courses and were eaten with the ‘good’ silver cutlery that sat in a velvet-lined wooden box for eleven months of the year because it also was ‘too good’ to use. And even though it was rarely used, it was polished regularly, along with every other item of silver and brass.

Dinner parties started with canapés and an aperitif, such as Sherry or Vermouth in order to stimulate the appetite. After dessert came the cheese platter and port or muscat or tokay, and lively debate on politics or religion. The next day the room smelt of Brut, Old Spice, Charlie and stale tobacco.

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Carpet was shagpile- fibres inches long and impossible to vacuum clean. God knows what lurked beneath everyone’s luxurious flooring, most likely Ebola or Typhoid. However, because we played in the dirt and mud, and ate bugs and dog food when dared, we had strong immune systems.

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Walls, and even ceilings, were adorned with wallpaper. Psychedelic prints, geometric prints and large green leaves were all the fashion. My mother used to wallpaper everything. I remember her threading each sheet of wallpaper through a special water-filled trough that dampened the glue sufficiently to make it cling to a wall. Prior to this invention she used to lay the paper on trestle tables and paint the claggy-glue on with a wide blonde, horse-hair brush.

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Our television, a wooden box on four skinny legs, had rabbit ears as an antenna. These ears were temperamental and required much jostling, tweaking and experimenting to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the static didn’t ruin the picture and sound was clear. On many occasions it was my job to stand next to the TV and hold the rabbit ears because that was where the picture was best.

After school we would play with our friends on the street or go wandering around our suburb, or to the local park. Home time was when the street lights came on. We knew everyone in our suburb, and everyone knew us, which meant that we were sure to get caught if we did anything stupid.

Nothing was more important than playing outside, riding bikes, mastering rollerskates, laughing, playing tiggy or chasey or flirting innocently with boys. No one wanted to stop playing to eat lunch or dinner. Food was an inconvenience, an unwanted (but necessary) interruption to playtime.

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After playing with our friends all day, we’d go home and talk to them on the phone all night. Our mothers and fathers would interrupt us constantly, telling us to get off the phone, that it was bedtime. And constantly, we would ignore them because there was still so much to say to this person we had just spent all day with.

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Holidays were spent at the beach. Four weeks in a caravan and canvas annexe. BBQ each night for dinner, spotlight in the trees at night, days of swimming and tobogganing  on the sand dunes. Pure heaven. Pure freedom.

We would tape songs off the radio on our cassette players because we didn’t have the money to buy a song from a record store. Music came on flat black vinyl discs that were played with a diamond stylus. My mum’s copies of Hot August Night and American Pie were the soundtrack to my childhood. I still know all the words.

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Dinner was meat and three veg, tuna casserole and rice or curried sausages. Dessert was tinned fruit and plain vanilla ice cream. Lunch was a cheese sandwich that sat in our bags for hours, in hot, humid school corridors. Ethnic kids had salami sandwiches. No fridges. No one ever got food poisoning.

A plain icy-pole cost five cents. Lollies were displayed in specially made glass cases in milk bars. We took our time in choosing exactly which lolly, and how many of each, we wanted in our bag of mixed lollies because it was a hugely important decision. Twenty cents was a fortune. Fifty cents practically made you a billionaire. A crisp white bag of sugary treats was move valuable than diamonds.

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The shops closed at midday on Saturday and didn’t reopen until nine on Monday morning. We never ran out of bread or milk and didn’t panic buy simply because the shops were closed for a day and a half. Car parks made great racing tracks for our bikes. We would pretend we were adults, driving cars and parking our bikes in the middle of empty car parks.

I wish I could take my kids back to my own childhood, just to share with them the pure magic of having been a seventies kid. The freedom that they don’t have now. To show them that life does not revolve around ipads, tablets, laptops and mobile phones would be heaven. To see them fall into a hot shower each night to hose off their dirt and sweat covered skin, to ravenously throw dinner down their necks and collapse into their pillow each night out of pure exhaustion and happiness, would be wonderful.

They ask me about the ‘olden days’ occasionally and shake their head when I tell them what it was like. No internet. No computers. No mobile phones. No international school camps. For all the convenience and promise the kids have now, I wouldn’t swap a thing. I love my seventies childhood, and feel extraordinarily blessed to have these memories.

Call in Scully and Mulder…

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Call in Scully and Mulder because I want to believe…

I walked downstairs on Saturday morning and, stunned by the scene in front of me, became convinced I was in the wrong house.

Something woo-woo had happened in my sleep, causing me to astral travel to another woman’s home, even though it was disturbingly similar to my living room. Even the kids were identical to mine.

But despite the similarities, it couldn’t possibly have been my house because…

There were three children sitting at the table in complete and utter silence…

doing their homework…

Voluntarily!

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Da-da- dahhhhhhhhh!

I know! Shocking, right?

Completely freaking unbelievable?

Immediately, I whipped out my phone to record the moment for posterity, because surely this was a once in a lifetime event- never to be repeated, ever again in the history of the universe.

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I snuck around behind them and looked at their screens, the cynic in me too suspicious to truly believe my own eyes.

Expecting to see ‘Lego for kids’ or bloody ‘Minecraft’, I was stunned into silence when the screens displayed ‘Mathletics’ and ‘Reading Eggs’- their assigned homework sites.

Holy crap!

Did the ‘homework faerie’ come to my home last night and sprinkle his magic dust over three of my kids? (the eldest was still snoring in his bed- he’s not a morning person).

Were they hypnotised into obedience? (is that even possible?)

Had my husband bribed them with sugar, salt and grease laden treats the night before?

No, no and no. They had simply decided to do their homework before breakfast so that they could have the rest of the day to themselves.

Utterly shocking. A miracle worthy of canonisation.

Those of you who have children will smile when I say ‘it’s usually very difficult to get my kids to do their homework.’

And by ‘difficult’, I really mean impossible; requiring more bribery than the FIFA World Cup drama, more tears than a screening of ‘Beaches’, ‘Step Mom’ and ‘The Fault in our Stars’ combined. More objections than the entire 20 seasons of ‘Law and Order’, and a level of eye-ball rolling, pouting and groaning that would rival the entire teenage population.

And that’s on a good day!

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Yes, parents – you know exactly what I’m talking about. Homework = nightmare.

It’s possible that every parent hates homework more than their kids do. The act of getting your kid to sit down and do their homework is a trial, a torture and threatens family unity. It ruins that lovely parent-kid bond that you’ve worked so frigging hard to achieve.

And the worst part of homework is that for their entire school career it never ends! It starts in Prep and finishes 13 years later when the graduate high school – and that’s without them going on to University!

So, you can imagine my aneurism inducing shock at the image of the scholarly endeavour in front of me.

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I can’t explain it, and more importantly, I don’t even want to. Whatever happened was perfect – like all the planets aligned and combined with the ethereal powers of the universe, Jedi force and magic ju-ju.

Will it happen again next week?

I’m an optimist, not a deranged lunatic. I’ll leave my homework-performance expectations where they are- somewhere around the soles of my shoes.

Instead I am going to take this victory as a baffling, but extraordinarily wonderful, phenomenon of magnificence. It will be stored in the recesses of my mind and brought out while sitting around campfires telling stories of the eerie and inexplicable. It will take its place in folklore and fable, nestled amongst Big Foot, Nessie and the Min Min lights, and there it shall remain- a distant, yet glorious memory in my mummy mind.

The Daddy Factor, part 2…

A few months ago I posted a blog (The Daddy Factor)  about my husband taking our three older boys out to lunch in a food court and how three elderly ladies felt the need to tell him that the boys were exceptionally well behaved. Then they said to him: “It’s great to see how well behaved your boys are. Please pass onto your wife that she’s done an excellent job.

Well, after last week’s effort, I hate to think what they would have said to him, and am positive that they would not have passed their compliments on to me. In fact, I am pretty sure that they would have been ringing Child Services and reporting us…but let’s start at the beginning…

We are big fans of the show, The Big Bang Theory, in fact, our ten year old can quote episodes verbatim and our eight year old bares a remarkable resemblance to Sheldon (both physically and emotionally).

Fellow fans may remember the episode where Raj attempts to imitate American sayings, but gets it wrong and comes out with a mish-mash of quotes that don’t make sense. Well, apparently our six year old, Lachlan, was paying more attention to that particular episode than we thought.

While at a food court, eating lunch, the boys were reminiscing about their favourite sayings from the show. Lachlan joined in and said, that the top of his voice, while waving his sandwich around in his little hand,

“Hey, remember when Raj said: IN YOUR ARSE!”

Of course, the entire food court heard him and turned their stunned faces in the direction of Jason, who was now choking on his lunch.  The two older boys were as stunned as the rest of the food court population, while Lachlan, oblivious to his blunder, was smiling and dancing.

The eight year old mini-Sheldon, pointed out that Lachlan had gotten it wrong.  Raj had actually said: “Shut Your Arse!”, meaning to say “Shut up”.

Jason pointed out that in either case, it was not appropriate language for children and they shouldn’t say it again. Especially in a large public space, like a food court.

Fast track one hour later – Jason and the boys are happily ensconced in their seats at the movie theatre, waiting for the main feature to start.

A young child, sitting with his family in the same row, had been talking through the trailers, but no one cared because he only looked to be about four years old. We’ve all got to start somewhere, right?

As the main feature started, the small child continued to chat, even though his parents had tried to shush him.  We all know it’s impossible to tell a small one to be quiet when he has something to say.

Lachlan, however, thought otherwise. He leant  forward in his seat, turned toward the child and said, loudly:

“Shut your arse!”

Yep, you read correctly. Our six year old told another child to shut his arse. In perfect context. Perfect timing.  Not in a busy food court, but in a quietened movie theatre where everyone could hear.

Jason was stunned into silence, as were the older boys – especially our ten year old, Ethan,  who was sitting next to the mother of the other child. Ethan chose to let the backrest of the seat swallow him whole as he disappeared into the tweedy upholstery.  All that remained were to enormous, shocked blue eyeballs that were bulging out of his head in an attempt not to laugh, mixed with utter shock at what Lachlan had done, and fear that the mother would blame him.

Jason and his rugby player physique joined Ethan and made himself as small as a 100kg man can be, as he too disappeared into the manky upholstery of the seat.

And me? I wiped tears away from my eyes in hysterics, as this was relayed to me later that afternoon. I was at home writing at the time, so missed out (for once) on the public humiliation that comes wrapped in the gorgeous bubble that is my six year old, Lachlan.

But, the next time his teacher tells me that he is having trouble comprehending  things at school, I will be able to tell her otherwise!

The drive to school is…

crazy[1]The journey from garage to school yard each morning is often fraught with tears, bickering  and temporary insanity…and it’s only a four minute drive to school…

7.57:00 am – I do a final cattle call for everyone to board the ‘school express’ that is currently welcoming  passengers in the garage. There’s no need to show your tickets, just put your school bag and hat in the boot, climb on in to the car  and do your seatbelt up. Let’s go.

7:57:10 – Two older boys have managed to find the door into the garage. Don’t be too impressed that they have done this within ten seconds because I have been gently encouraging them since 7:45 to put their bag in the car and get in. The twenty metres between the television and garage door is the longest journey of the day and can take up to fifteen minutes at times.

7:57:15 – Same two boys begin to argue because they have both tried to squeeze through the door at the same time, unsuccessfully.  Push has come to shove and one is sporting a sore shoulder from banging into the door frame and the other has managed to trip over his own feet. They are blaming each other.

The two younger boys are still chasing the dogs and each other in the backyard and are, conveniently, unable to hear me calling them.

7:57:35 – The two older boys have found the boot and thrown their school bags in it. They both land upside down which means that the entire contents of their lunch boxes has now been upended and will resemble scrambled dog food. This will not look appetizing come lunch time so it will not be eaten. Instead, it will come home untouched at the end of the day, resulting in another lecture from me about how our World Vision children would kill for such a feast.

The two younger boys are still playing in the backyard. They now look at me when I call them, but ignore my voice and hand gestures as I wave at them. I am worthy of a place on the Olympic Charade team.

7:58:00 – The two older boys are now sitting in the car, arguing because one shut the door too hard. There is a permanent seating arrangement in the car: birth order numbers 1,3 and 4 cram in the backseat together and number 2 sits in the spacious passenger seat, even though he is the skinniest of the lot. This is because he and number 3 have a symbiotic relationship akin to petrol and flame. The only other seating option is to put one of them in the boot, but I am told this is illegal.

7:58:20 – The two younger boys are still in the backyard and are smiling at me as my voice climbs to a sopranic rant. They continue to play.

7:58:30 – I open the back door and tell them that if they don’t get into the car right now they will never see the inside of a packet of crisps or icecream wrapper again. They move faster than the speed of light and hurl themselves into the back seat, squashing number 1 in the process. Number 2 smiles smugly from the front seat.

7:58:40 – I ask if everyone has remembered their hats. Eight eyeballs stare blankly at me. I get out of the car, retrieve said hats from the garage shelf, mumble a quiet profanity, and throw the hats in the car.

7:58:50 – I start the engine. Number 4 is hitting number 1 because he doesn’t want his older brother to clip his seatbelt in. He wants to do it himself, but then gets frustrated because he can’t do it himself. Number 1 offers to help, which results in physical abuse from number 4 in the form of tiny, fisty punches.

7:59:00 – Number 3 has started to make the world’s most annoying sound – ‘eeeeeooooooo, eeeeeeeooooooooo, eeeeeeeeeeooooooooooo’ at approximately 97 decibels. Symbiotic relationship with number 2 kicks into action and we have lift off – a volcanic eruption from number 2 and a satisfied grin from number 3 as he continues his unmelodious  screech.

7:59:10 – I groan, inwardly and silently, so hard that my lungs deflate. I then allow myself to fondly reminisce about the days when leaving the garage was a easy as getting in the car, turning the engine on and reversing.

7:59:20 – An ear piercing scream  snaps me out of my daydream and back to reality. Number 4 has pinched number 1, who is now clutching his upper arm in pain. I tell number 4 that his behaviour  is not ok. He bursts into tears. We haven’t even reversed out of the garage yet and everything’s turned to hell already.

7:59:30 – I lose my shit.

7:59:55 – I continue to lose my shit.

8:00:30 – I am still losing my shit.

8:00:45 – I have finished losing my shit. The car is filled with stunned silence.

8:01:00 – During the minute of losing my shit I have reversed out of the driveway and we are now only 2 minutes from school. The car is still filled with stunned silence.

8:01:30 – The guilt hormone is released from my endocrine system at the rate of an overflowing dam. I am the world’s worst mother. All I do is yell at my kids – just ask my neighbours, they’ll tell you. I don’t deserve kids.

8:01:45 – No, really. These kids are great. I’d give them the beating heart out of my chest if they needed it.  Look at them. They can’t help it – they’re kids for god’s sake! I’m the adult. It is not OK to lose my shit.

8:02:00 – I apologise for losing my shit, although I phrase it in kid-friendly terms.  I tell them how much I love them and that I don’t want to be a screaming mummy. If they would do as they were told and not fight with each other, we could all live happily ever after. They all nod. I smile, even though I know, without a doubt, that if I were to ask them to repeat what I had just said, no one would be able to do it.

8:02:30 – We are nearing the school gate and all chatting happily.

8:02:45 – We pull up in the car park and get ready to unpack the bags and walk into school. I am so thankful for the last 15 seconds of family happiness that I feel like a true earth mother. Maybe I am a better mother than I give myself credit for? After all, 15 seconds of no fighting, screeching, tears or punching is pretty good!

Happy Mother’s Day…

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Today is Mother’s Day in Australia, the day when Mums of young kids get a sleep in, cremated toast, luke warm tea or coffee and loads of hugs and kisses from overly excited little people, who will thrust drawings of stick people with triangle bodies and four fingers at them.

Those with teenagers may hope to get grunted at less frequently today, be eyeball rolled only a dozen times, sneered at with reduced lip curl and told that they suck only once. I don’t have a teenager yet, but I’ve been told that this is the teenage version of affection towards a parent.

Mums of adults who are parents themselves may receive the recognition they have worked so hard for – a simple, but heartfelt, Thank you Mum.

I have asked my four boys for one thing today – that there be no fighting between them at all – all day! Not one push or shove, not one snarl or growl, not one evil eye or scowly face. No dobbing, no picking on, ganging up against, teasing, pinching, flicking, snapping, rolling of eyeballs, displays of frustration or anger, tanties, or whinging.

Now what are the chances of that happening?

And the reason I have asked for this seemingly enormous gift?

Firstly, because I usually ask for a bottle of Cointreau or Midori when it comes to any form of present. Seeing as it was my birthday less than a month ago, I am concerned that my boys will think Mummy is a drunken lush if I score another bottle. (I must clarify that the Cointreau from my birthday is still 75% full. Mummy is neither a drunk nor a lush, much to Daddy’s disappointment.)

Secondly, I want them to see just how lovely an entire day of not being told off for fighting, not being sent to their room for hitting or karate kicking, and not being nagged to death by a frustrated and slightly insane mother can be.

Just imagine  – an entire day where no one gets in trouble! Heaven.

But you should have seen the look on their faces when I made my request. The older ones did the maths  – up at 7.30ish and to bed at 7.30pm, that’s 12 whole hours of not fighting. Twelve hours!

Their eyeballs sunk backwards into their heads in shock, their complexion paled, and the hinges on their jaws slackened like a ten year old bra strap.

“But…what are we going to do then?” one of them asked.

“Indeed! What are you going to do?” I replied.

Silence. Four little faces staring back at me with vacuous expressions, clearly at a loss as to how they would fill in their day if it didn’t involve arguing or fighting.

“How about we watch a movie, without fighting over which one it will be, or play a board game, without anyone getting cranky about losing or missing a turn, or even go to the park, without anyone getting stroppy because someone is riding a bike faster than them,” I suggested.

Blank stares from eight eyeballs – 4 brown, 4 blue, all framed with luxuriously long eyelashes. (why do the boys always get the beautiful eyelashes?)

Holy crap! What have I done? I’ve asked for the impossible!

They can’t even go to the toilet without fighting. Of the 3 toilets in the house, only 1 is used by any of them. It’s the favourite loo. There’s a major meltdown if two kids need to pooh at the same time. We have to try to schedule crap o’clock so that everyone is accommodated and happy.

The 2 older boys have electric toothbrushes that are timed to run for 2 minutes and they always synchronise  their start times. One gets upset if the other’s toothbrush cuts out before his does, even though it is outside of either boy’s control.

I mean, come on! Must you argue and fight about everything?

And the answer to this is….yes, probably.

Siblings arguing is how the pecking order is established, challenged, altered and maintained. It is where they learn (slowly) to put their thoughts forward and to listen to those of others as they gain a new perspective. It is how they evolve into small adults who are confident enough in themselves and their ability to communicate effectively, to go out into the big, wide world and function as well informed, social  humans.

So, what can I take away from this? If I’m smart, I’ll realise that siblings arguing is a necessary part of their development, and even though it drives me nuts at times, as long as they are exercising their mouths (in a polite way) and not their fists, I can be sure that they are learning how to settle their differences with each other, and live in a world that encourages many different points of view from which they can broaden their own horizons.

If not, I might empty that bottle of Cointreau a bit quicker!

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful women who choose the love of your children over your own sanity! You rock – and don’t ever forget it or let anyone tell you otherwise.

The only Vulva in the house…

“Mum, we’re learning sexuality education at school,” says Ethan, my seven year old son.
“Already? But you’re only in grade two.”

“What do you mean, mate?” asks my husband, Jason.

“I can name all of our toilet parts,” he says confidently, ” penis, scrot-chum, vagina…”
“Great, well done,” I say. Not exactly dinner conversation, is it? “So, what else happened today?”
“Well,  I know that you have a viola, mum.”

I choke on my own saliva, “whaaaat did you say?”

Jason is sniggering in the background while my jaw bounces off the table.

“I said, I know that you have a viola, you know, down there.” Ethan points to his crotch, a gentle shade of pink creeping across his face. At least he has the good grace to blush.
“No Eth, I don’t have a viola, down there,” I reply. “Good lord Jason, what the hell are they teaching these kids?”

“Yes, you do.” His little chin sticks out with great indignance.
“Ethan, if there was a large violin in my girlie bits, don’t you think I’d know about it?”

“Oh, wait. No! It’s a Volvo. That’s it, you have a Volvo.”

Jason is now openly laughing.

“No, it’s not called a Volvo either,”  I say.
“A vulture?” Now he’s just guessing.
Jason has graduated to hysterics, tears running down his cheeks as his face paralysed.

Ethan  catches on that he has an audience and follows his father’s lead, even though he has no idea what he’s laughing at.

“No! It is certainly not called a vulture. A vulture is a bird that eats dead meat. Only an idiot would put his penis near that.”
“Stop, stop! …can’t breathe,” Jason gasps. What’s the next step from hysterics? Heart attack?

“Why would any man want to put his penis near a vulture?” Ethan asks innocently. The expression on his face tells me that the sexuality education hasn’t gone into details yet – thank god.

“He wouldn’t. It’s not called a vulture Ethan. It’s called a…”
“A Vulva! That’s it mum! You’ve got a Vulva.”

Great. My seven year old son knows the name and location of my Vulva. Excellent.

Jason has no hope of composing himself any time soon. Every time he looks at me he’s off again, thumbing the tears away from his eyes, his face the colour of a vine ripened tomato.

So there you go. Life as the only female in a house of five males can be tough. Sure, I am the Queen and Princess rolled into one, but I am also the odd one out. The minority. The lonely girl.  The only one with a Vulva.