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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On why I write

This is one of those blog-linkup things, wherein I've been nominated by another blogger (thank you Rachiebee) to write a blogpost about why I write.  And at the end I'll nominate two more bloggers to do the same.  If you follow the trail back you find some quite interesting blogs.  First in the virtual breadcrumb trail is Rachiebee - her blog really is true to its description of being a picnic of thoughts.  When I read Rachel's blog it's like she's right there in the room with me, as it's written exactly how she talks, which is to say in a bubbling stream of consciousness, full of delight and wonder at life.  I love listening to Rachel talk, mostly because I'm sort of quite introverted and don't do chatter, but I'm very happy to listen to someone who likes to give voice to all their thoughts.  And I could listen to Rachel all day.

Why do I write?
I write, I think mostly, to make sense of, and make fun of, my world.  At age thirty, I found myself in charge of a small human being, and very much not in charge of the thoughts and feelings that accompanied that new role.  My first blog posts were timid, a testing of the waters.  I kept my blog secret for quite a while, before sharing it with my mum.  Buoyed by her encouragement, I pressed on, finding a voice and style that suited me.  My blog posts often, but not always, use some combination of humour, some research, and some pithy reflection on the whole subject.  I like the discipline of a blog post, of having to get my ideas out there in 1000 words, to bring everything together in a neat, organised and thoughtful way, and having to find some pictures which neatly illustrate what I'm saying.  And secretly, I quite like watching my blog stats, and seeing how many people stumble on my blog every day.  It's not many, but hey, at least it's being read by someone.  And maybe, just maybe, my sons will one day read my blog and gain a new appreciation of the young woman who was their mother (and why she so frequently lost her shizz with them).


How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
My blog is most definitely a "mummy blog" (or a "mommy blog" if you're in North America), though there is a part of me that feels quite uncomfortable about that label.  There are many different types of mummy blogs.  I would say that one point of difference in mine is that I make a point, usually, of not blogging directly about my kids.  Usually I use something about their development or recent behaviour as a jumping off point for a post - but I try not to prattle on about the clever thing they did today.  Some stories are too good not to share, but for the most part I use them to mull over some aspect of the broader context or relevant research.


How does my writing process work?
It's pretty stop/start.  If I have an idea for a post, I try and get it down as soon as possible, with some notes on what I was thinking.  Then, when I have time to come back to it, I will write a bit more.  At any one time I have around 4-5 pieces I am actively working on, and I have another 30 or so draft posts in various states of completion, some of which will never see the light of day.  When one is getting near to completion, I'll often stay up late feverishly working on it, reading it, rereading it, adding photos, and checking it.  Even once a blog post is finished, I'll often leave it overnight before I post it, just to be sure I'm happy with it.  My time alone is minimal, so I write when, and where, I can.  Today I'm writing this post from the waiting room at the doctor's surgery, where I'm waiting to be seen for what I suspect is tonsillitis.  Writing is better than reading those germ-laden and outdated mags anyway, and it is a welcome distraction from people-watching.  The waiting room is crowded and there's a young woman across from me sobbing into her hands while her friend rubs her back.  I'm trying not to stare and hoping she gets seen by a doctor really soon, since we all know it's bad when you can't hold it together in front of 30 people in the waiting room. 

What am I working on?
Urgh, too much.  Lately I'm working on balancing motherhood with working, and trying not to lose my shit with my kids because of the sleep deprivation.  Did I mention that I'm really tired?  I'm working on getting more sleep.

Nominations
I am struggling with this, first because I don't have many blogger friends, and second because I don't like to force this self-expose of bloggery on the ones I do know.  However, if you're looking for some interesting reads, I recommend Tui Mamaki's blog on her adventures in Bulgaria - her writing is lush, like her gorgeous singing, or this new blog by another mama - she has an original and irreverent approach to healthy food.  Blog on!

Monday, August 4, 2014

History lessons with a four-year-old

This afternoon, driving home from a big morning of playing at the park, the news on the radio reminded us that today is the commemoration of 100 years since the start of World War One.

"World War One?" asked Milkbaby, from the back seat.

He often overhears snippets of the news and makes comment; yesterday the weather report was "showers easing overnight" and he said with a giggle "there was sneezing in the night??!".  Oh how we laughed.

"Yes darling, it was a big war one hundred years ago.
"But why, mama?
"Umm, that's a good question.  Let's learn all about it this afternoon, okay?"

I'm floundering here.  The sad thing is, I'm a history major.  But how do you explain the causes of the First World War (or any war, for that matter) to a four-year-old?  The first thought that popped into my head was "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans", but I held my tongue as various ideas, phrases and images from long-ago-crammed exams bounced in my head.

As we pulled up, I thought I'd personalise the war conversation.  More fool me.

"Your great great grandfather was in World War One.
"My great great grandfather?"
"Yes his name was Albert Alfred.  He was killed in France."
[looking upset] "He died?"
"Yes darling, he was shot on Vimy Ridge" [Mama blunders on]
[bottom lip quivering and eyes getting moist]  "But he's died?"
"Yes" [realising that maybe this topic is too heavy and wondering how I can back out of it]
"But ... I wanted to play with him" [the pre-cry whine is threatening his voice]
"Oh that's really nice honey.  It's sad isn't it.  War is really sad because lots of people die.  What shall we have for lunch?"  [How's that for a mid-conversation-subject-change??]

I might have made a mistake here.  Or perhaps opened up a little door to a lifetime of curiosity for history.  Whatever the case, this conversation and the afternoon's activities (drawing a picture of Albert Alfred, watching historical footage of WWI, and poring over the world map discussing which countries were involved and where the major fighting took place) opened the question floodgates.

"But where was he fighting?"  In France, at Vimy Ridge.
"He was in Canada?"  No he was from Canada, and went to France.
"But how did he get there?"  Good question... by boat.
"But who went with him?"  His army mates, his Battalion.
"How old was he?"  I'm not sure, I will check and let you know in the morning.
"I think he was 36."  That's probably about right, he was probably about the same age as me and daddy because he had four young children.  [holy crap, FOUR children?!!  I checked: he was 35]
"But, mama?  You couldn't play with him?  And Cal couldn't play with him?"   No darling, we couldn't play with him either.  He didn't come home from the war.

He didn't come home from the war.  As I walked out of Milkbaby bedroom after blowing more goodnight kisses, it was this I thought of.  He didn't come home from the war, leaving my great grandmother with four children, the youngest of whom (my grandfather) was just two.  FOUR children!

The moral of this story?  Know your facts before starting a conversation with a four-year-old.  On any subject.  And be careful when discussing the war, his eyes might not be the only ones getting moist.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Mama makes: a knitted Lego Batman and matching Batman cake

You thinking I'm joking right?  Yes, I actually knitted a Batman Lego action figure, then topped off the whole birthday experience by making a Batman cake to go with it.  I consider this cake and knitted action figure to be the crowning achievements of my motherhood experience so far.

Read on for instructions on how to make the knitted batman.

Batman Lego Action Hero

Supplies:
One 50g ball of black 8-ply wool
One A4 sheet each of black, white and yellow felt
Stuffing, or three additional pieces of felt (felt makes quite good stuffing)
Two 4mm knitting needles, as well as a similar sized pair of circular needles
A needle and black and white thread
Glue, Scissors

Step 1: Get inspired.  Decide that you will make your precious almost-4-year-old the best soft toy EVER, even if you've always slightly despised soft toys and resented how much space they take up in his bed.  Head to your local craft store (in my case, this was Spotlight).  Wander the aisles there, slightly bewildered by the multiple project ideas coming into your head.  Get your supplies, as well as supplies for a bunch of other craft/knitting projects you don't have the time or skills for.

Step 2:  Search the internet for a knitting pattern for a knitted lego batman, because surely someone's made of these before, right?  Wrong.  You will only find a knitted lego batman willy warmer, and countless examples of knitted batman soft toys (not lego-shaped) by people who are just plain showing off their knitting skills.  Decide that you will "freestyle it".

Step 3:  Look at some pictures of Lego Batman on the internet, and then begin to knit, freestyle (a.k.a "making it up as you go along"):

Head and body (two sides done as one piece)

Knit a shape like this:


Or if you really need instructions, try these (I take no responsibility for how the body of your superhero turns out!):

The body is knit in stocking stitch, and the head in garter stitch.
Cast on 20 sts, knit 1 row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row
Knit one row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row (24 sts)
Continue to knit/purl alternate rows, and about every 3-4 rows decrease by a stitch at either end of the row, until you have a body-shaped piece and 16 sts on your needles.
Now it's time to knit the head.  COff 4 sts, then knit 8, then COff another 4 sts.  Knit those 8 until you have a long bit in the middle that when folded over is a square head shape.
Then knit the backside of the body by reversing the instructions above/freestyling it.

Arms and legs

These were knitted on circular needles using the "magic loop" technique.  Here's some instructions:



For the arms, cast on 8 stitches, and knit till the arms are approximately the length of the body.  For the legs, cast on 12 stitches, and knit till the legs are that stubby little leg length that you see on the Lego Batman (about 1.5 inches if you're really wondering).

Step 4: Now to put it all together.  Sew the head together around the sides, and stuff before sewing across the bottom where it joins the body.  Then sew the body's sides together, and stuff before sewing across the bottom.  Sew one end of the arms and legs closed, stuff, then sew the other end closed.  Join the arms and legs to the body in approximately the right places.

Step 5: Use the remaining felt to do the face (white felt under a pice of black felt), the batman sign (black felt on yellow), the belt (a strip of yellow felt with the buckle and embellishment sewn on), and the cape (just cut out a cape shape and braid some wool to hold it on).  You also need to carefully stitch the frowny lips.

Step 6: You're done!  Lovingly wrap it and give it to your little superhero for his 4th birthday.  Admit to feeling just a little proud when Batman manages to bump the other soft toys to the soft toy hammock and take his place as Milkbaby's sole sleeping companion.

Knitted Lego Batman just hanging out

And the cake?  I couldn't provide instructions to enable you to replicate the saved-from-almost-disaster icing job.  Seriously, just 15 minutes before salvaging this into the most awesome icing job ever, I was hanging my head in frustration over the cake, mumbling "I'm such a bad mother...this icing looks terrible."   

"Don't worry," said Captain Boringvoice, "it's post-modern to show the construction of the cake."  "But this isn't how it's supposed to look!" I wailed.  

Realising there wasn't time for melodrama, I gave myself a stern talking to ("for God's sake pull yourself together and think of something creative you can do with this cake").  Not a bad result really - just shows what an impending birthday party and a good pep talk can do.

Batman: so strong he'll rip the icing right off your cake.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Milkbaby's movie meanderings: Ernest & Celestine and Frozen

For Milkbaby's fourth birthday, we took him to Ernest & Celestine.  Here's his review.

Tell me about Ernest & Celestine.
It had a big ummm bear, called Ernest.  And a little mouse who was called Celestine.  Umm Celestine dropped the pencil, and the movie was great.

What was the best part of the movie?
The funny one, the big mouse.   He went "boof!" into the door. [giggles]

What did Ernest & Celestine do?
They jumped in the big house.  Celestine took a big bunch of teeth.  Where to?  To the doctor?  Did she steal them?  No. Ernest stole a whole bunch of teeth.  And that's the end of it.

Who was chasing them?
I saw a funny part.  It was the police holding hands and went "boof" into a wall.  It was very silly. [more giggling]

What else did you like about the film?
Nothing.

Were Ernest & Celestine friends in the end?
Yup.

But mama? We didn't talk about Frozen yet!

What do you want to say about Frozen?
There's two girls, and one girl went away and said

"Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice
Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice"  [Milkbaby sings this for me, somewhat tunelessly]

That's the song about the girl who was going away.

Where did she go?
She made a tall house and a bridge.  And.  Someone trapped her.  And it was locked.  And.  Uh.  The other girl came to her and tracked inside.  What happened then?  It locked.  They were huggling each other.  But the one he was coming back and the other one was pushing her away.  The guy?   No. The girl.

What else happened?
It's finished.  I want to say Germany wins. [Any guess as to what day we wrote this together?  Yup, the day that one country got their happily-ever-after ending.]

Mama's thoughts
Ernest & Celestine is a gorgeous, fantastical movie, from the creators of The Triplets of Belleville.  For anyone who has read the Ernest & Celestine picturebooks, as far as I can tell, this film doesn't attempt to adapt their simple stories; rather, it is the backstory of how Ernest & Celestine came to be friends.  And what a story it is - they both must overcome adversity (the mouse and bear Police officers go "boof") and their own personal challenges to realise their dream of staying friends.  Celestine is a courageous and smart female role model.  She stands up to the system, and to the "big scary bear" Ernest.  Ernest, voiced by Forest Whittaker, is her lovable and loyal sidekick.

And Frozen? Don't even get me started... I've "let it go" already.

Rating for Ernest & Celestine: ***** (go see it if you haven't already!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My sweetheart the drunk

"It's like hanging out with a drunk person" I said to Captain Boringvoice.  We had just witnessed Milkbaby (now four) push over a large smoothie whilst trying to slide it back across the table to me.  Looking back on it now, even a drunk person knows you don't move a full glass of beer by applying force to the top of the glass.  "Think about it" I went on "- no voice volume control, repeating self, interrupting other people, emotionally volatile, lack of inhibition, argumentative..."

"Hmm" said Captain Boringvoice in agreement, looking at Milkbaby.  "Actually, it's probably more like hanging out with a drunk person who's also on acid", nodding my gaze towards Milkbaby.  At that moment, Milkbaby was using his fingers to create patterns in the maple syrup on his plate, then staring fixedly at each finger before licking it clean and repeating.

A quick google revealed that there's actually more to this comparison than I thought.  In short, the functions that alcohol impairs in the adult brain are quite similar to the functions that are still developing in a preschooler's brain.

It's all about the prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex (the PFC to some, otherwise known as the bulbous bit of your brain immediately behind your forehead) is the smartest part of your brain.  It's the brain's brain.  Its job is to interpret messages from other parts of your brain, and turn that information into a response that reflects both present and future circumstances.  Take crossing the road.  It's your PFC that's saying, "hold it, I hear a car coming, it's not safe to cross now, okay, look the other way, yes, coast is clear, right you can cross now."  See what I mean about present and future circumstances?
The PFC: ensures you don't cry over toast triangles.

It's also the job of the PFC to exert control over the rest of your brain in social situations to avoid socially unacceptable outcomes.  So the next time you order toast in a cafe, and it's cut in triangles rather than squares, and for some strange reason it really really matters to you and you feel like you're going to cry about it or shout at someone but you manage to hold it together?  That's your PFC going "just hold it together buddy, crying about toast that's cut wrong will create a scene, and we don't want to do that now, do we?"

So let's just do a little tally up.  The main effects of alcohol on your PFC will mean you have:

  • poorer spatial recognition and planning (if we take the crossing the road example again, your drunken PFC is going "how far away is that car?  is it a car?  whatever, just cross the road, I'm pretty sure that moving object isn't going to hit you")
  • poorer recall and decision-making (need I explain?)
  • lowered inhibition (possibly not lowered so much so that you are apt to shout "my wees are coming out!" across a crowded bar, but let's just say your tongue and voicebox volume control will be loosened up somewhat).

And what about preschoolers?

Well...  In humans, the PFC is still developing well into your twenties, and structural changes actually occur during the preschool years.  In short, your threenager is yelling at you for cutting their toast wrong because their PFC hasn't yet grown enough to tell them it's inappropriate to make a scene over such a minor matter.  

The PFC of a preschooler is also still developing its other areas of executive function.  Like decision-making and planning.  This is a pretty common conversation in our house most days right now.

"Honey, do you need to pee?  Because we're going out so it would be a good idea to pee before we leave"
"No."
"Can you just try?"
"NO."
"Please?  It's quite a long car ride and I don't want you to have an accident" [read: the back seat of the car is dubious-smelling enough already without adding another bladder-full of wee to it]
"NO NO NO NO NO!  I DON'T NEED TO GO!"
"Ok, fine, let's not argue about it."

[10 minutes later, on the motorway or some other place quite far from any weeing facilities]

"Mamma?  I need to wee."
"Okay, can you hold on until we find somewhere?"
"No, my wees are coming!!!"
"Okay, just hold on, I'm pulling over."

[As you can see here I'm quite calm and polite about a late wee disclosure, but Jebus it DRIVES. ME. INSANE. and it's usually all I can do not to shout "You've got to be f#@*ing kidding me!!  We JUST talked about this!!"]

Check out the concentration on his
face with all that PFC activity.
Finally, there's recall and decision-making.  Take a skill like covering your mouth when you sneeze.  That involves anticipation, recall, decision-making and a bit of social control for good measure.  It's quite complex when you think about it.  Such a function requires consistent performance from your PFC.  Some adults haven't even mastered this skill, so why is it that beat ourselves up over our child's inability to prevent the spread of his latest lurgy?  Milkbaby's been berated so many times we had this conversation last week:

Milkbaby: "Achoo"
Me: "Cover your mouth"
Milkbaby: "How many times do I have to tell you?!"
Me: "Exactly what I was thinking." 

So, next time you're hanging out with your preschooler, and you're wondering why on earth they're shouting at you when you're right next to them, picking a fight over the colour of their pants, or refusing to use the toilet even though you know you won't be near facilities for the next little while, blame it on an under-developed prefrontal cortex and pretend you're hanging out with a drunk person.

Or even better, a drunk person on acid.  Pretty sure that entitles you to lick maple syrup from your fingers in a crowded cafe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hello Mastitis, my old friend


This little ditty is a few weeks old now. As soon as I'd thought "well hello Mastitis my old friend" I couldn't get this damn song out of my fever dreams, complete with those ageing ex-folkies gently crooning it in my ear. At one point I was pretty sure Paul Simon had also invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo along for the ride, my head was pounding that badly.  Anyway, the song sort of works, though it gets a bit weird around the third verse.

The Sounds of Mastitis

Hello Mastitis, my old friend
You've come to make me sick again
There's a redness softly creeping
Over my breast while I was sleeping
And the fever that was planted
in my brain
Still remains 
Within the sound of mastitis

"It's all happening at the zoo."   [photo source]
To After Hours I went alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a medical lamp
Doc felt my breast it was hot and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of that neon light
He called it a blight
And touched the sounds of mastitis

And in the Doctor's eyes I saw
Ten thousand mothers, maybe more
Doctors talking without speaking
Doctors hearing without listening
Doctors writing scripts than voices never shared
And no one cared
For the sound of mastitis

"Fools" said I "you do not know
Mastitis like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of mastitis

And the doctors bowed and prayed
To the penicillin god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said 
"The future use of antibiotics is written on the wall
of museum halls"
And whispered in the sounds of mastitis...

Thanks antibiotics, all better now.  And Mastitis, I'm singing a different tune now.  It goes: I am a rock, I am an island... I have no need for (your) friendship, (your) friendship causes pain...

Here's the tune, from happier times in the Simon & Garfunkel partnership.




Monday, June 2, 2014

Strange conversation #3: the pain of childbirth

This is one from the memory banks that I've been meaning to record for ages.

We're at a wedding, Milkbaby in tow. I'm making polite conversation with strangers. The groom's sister is pregnant. We soon get to talking babies, pregnancy, childbirth.

"I expect it will hurt a bit" she says.
"Um, yeah, it's hard to describe. It's different for everyone, but for me it started off feeling like quite bad period cramps."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"Yeah but then it ramps up." I'm struggling to find the words. I want to say something profound, but all I can think of is the bruising I was left with on my forehead from pushing my fists into my face during contractions. Not exactly a nice image. "But remember there's no pain between contractions, so you can relax and focus."
"Oh"
She's mulling this over. I scan her face, hoping I haven't scared the bejebus out of her. I look over her outfit. It's a quirky choice for a 'sister of the groom' look.
"I imagine it won't be any more painful than having your elbows tattooed." she says, somewhat out of the blue. 
I smile, keeping a poker face, as if she's just arrived at a sufficiently adequate comparison. "Hmm", I say agreeably.
"Because that was pretty painful."
I don't want to disavow her of this notion. Hey, who knows, maybe her labour will be no worse than the pain of having your elbows tattooed. Then again, probably not. It's better she finds out for herself.
"Yeah, it could be." I look at the mountains in the distance. "It could be."

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