About My Boy

June 12, 2019 at 10:17 am (Love and CJ)

I have a son.

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I still remember how odd it felt, when pregnant, to be carrying a boy. Obviously, boys are born all the time—but it felt instinctively strange to me to go through such an intensely female experience to produce something masculine.

(When we were told Louisette was a girl—again, at the 20 week ultrasound—Chris said to me in the car on the way home, “Don’t die, please, because I have no idea how to raise a girl.” I understood that sentiment a little better when I found out TJ was a boy.)

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There’s plenty I still don’t know about boys, but spending every day looking after someone eventually makes a parent feel moderately competent. (Which is probably quite silly, because children are changing constantly, so you’re never an expert on the person that they are at this exact second…. but as a parent you’re the closest thing to an expert that exists.)

TJ was immensely strong from birth, able to lift his head immediately, and scream bloody murder for a good twenty minutes without pause (which is pretty much when we gave up on breastfeeding, although I kept trying for another day or so). As a baby, we marvelled at his ability to amuse himself, without needing anyone else in the room. I was able to shower and go to the bathroom freely.

But if we left the house, he would not leave our arms. He knew who his parents were (and soon learned his grandparents) but anyone else was a Stranger To Be Shunned. He was about 9 months old when he started actually enjoying venturing away from us in public, and the whole world of playgrounds opened up. From that point, we took precautions to make sure he didn’t simply wander away from us (because he was confident enough to do so, and as usual he didn’t need company to have adventures).

For a long, long time he would only sleep either in our arms or with my arm draped over him. We had one of those bassinets that hook onto the side of the parents’ bed, and that was an absolute lifesaver.

TJ was born with an introvert’s disdain for social pressure (from either peers or parents). While Louisette’s automatic answer is “Yes” (“Do you want to go to the playground?” “Do you want to wear this shirt?”), TJ’s automatic answer is “No”, even to questions like, “Do you want some ice cream?”

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He’ll often pause and then say, “Actually, yes” but sometimes he’ll stick to his decision no matter how irrational. This trait by itself would make him a strong-willed child but it’s extremely modified by his calm and cheerful nature.

TJ is, in many ways, the perfect little boy. He has SO MANY BEANS and takes so much joy in life, and is so delightfully sure of himself.

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He’s also very, very smart academically. He knows all the letter sounds and several words, can count and add and do some multiplication, and he can tell a really good story, invent great imaginary friends (usually superheroes, with an awesome range of powers), and build amazing creations (either following step by step instructions—he can accurately follow incredibly complex lego instructions—or inventing his own things).

He and Louisette both make great engineers, inventors, and storytellers. TJ’s intelligence is much more obvious than Louisette’s, because a lot of Louisette’s ability is hidden behind her ADD. TJ doesn’t seem to have any health issues other than dry skin in Winter, so that’s awesome for him (and us).

TJ is incredibly entertaining. He loves to make sound effects (eg rocket sounds for when he’s running up the hallway), is extremely expressive, and is the class comedian.

 

 

When he goes to his regular class, other kids are happy to see him and call out for him to sit with them. There are two girls in particular who come up to him and try to make him laugh. Both girls are very pretty and popular in their own right, but they clearly enjoy TJ’s humour (which mostly consists of nonsense words, silly faces, and falling over). In their interactions I see foreshadowing of TJ’s likely popularity with pretty girls in his teen years. He’s pretty good looking himself, and everyone likes a laugh. He also gets on well with nearly everyone, because he’s very good at backing down over confrontation (eg two kids fighting over a toy). TJ is the main reason our kids mostly get on and play well together.

Having said that, he takes a while to warm up to new people or situations. I generally stay with him quite a while after drop-off, because (a) I get lots of hugs that way, and (b) It means he will eventually let me leave without crying. (Also it means I can observe his classmates a little—I want them to consider me a safe adult/friend in their teens.)

Sometimes, his humour and strong sense of self combine in ways that I don’t like as much. It’s well established that he prefers his dad to me, and he’ll often be quite rude to me. (By “quite rude” I mean things like this picture, which includes his aunt and uncle, cousin, sister, and Dad—but not me. When questioned by Chris, he said, “I didn’t want Mum in this one.” He also almost never hugs me goodnight—although if Chris encourages him to do a “surprise hug” involving a long creep across the floor followed by jumping up and hugging me, that usually works.)

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Other times he’ll be sweet and lovely. When I was at IronFest this year, talking to the kids on the phone before they went to bed, he told me, “I love you times a googol.” (Eat that, Iron Man.) But he’s ALWAYS sweet and lovely to Chris, and I’m so jealous! (Which of course puts pressure on TJ, which makes him less likely to show affection…)

He’s also discovered the delightful world of poo-related insults lately. Since I feel a rebel needs something to push against, I always react sternly if he calls someone “poopy pants”. I suspect his humour will always be edgy (calling someone a poo is 100% edgy at age 5), and I hope it never turns truly mean or hurtful.

TJ is, most likely, an able-bodied straight white male (he’s definitely able-bodied, white, and male). That automatically gives him power, and my job as a parent is to teach him to use his power for good and not for evil (or pure selfishness). As the youngest in our family, he has very little power thus far, and I think having a pet is absolutely essential for his development. “Be careful of those smaller, younger, or weaker than you” is such a crucial message (along with consent, which is why I don’t force him to hug me), and TJ’s best practical application is our cat(s).

 

 

I have a bazillion photos of TJ with our cats (the fluffy one in the pics above died last year), and at a certain point cats can teach boundaries themselves—if you mess with a well-trained cat, they will show physical signs of distress, then hiss and/or swat you, then scratch you.

Zipper (new cat) likes TJ, but he sometimes yells at/near her, or runs around too much, or teases her—so Zipper prefers Louisette (the person in our house most likely to sit still for a decent amount of time). I keep a sharp eye on TJ’s treatment of Zipper, because it shows any bullying tendencies that I wouldn’t otherwise see.

TJ is so darn full of life and joy and enthusiasm. He’s an absolute delight. He and Louisette both have an issue of shutting down when their emotions are running high, which makes it hard to solve a problem (since it can take a long time to get essential info out of them, like “I hurt my toe” or “I wanted the blue spoon”), so we’ll continue to work on emotional resilience with both of them. They don’t get much good modelling on that score because Chris is extremely calm and I am borderline manic depressive.

Sorry kids :/

TJ turned five last week, which is what inspired these reflections on his character. When Louisette turned five and I was talking on facebook about what a big milestone it is, the Aussie author Pamela Freeman (who writes historical fantasy as Pamela Hart) commented that if they’re a decent person at five years of age they’ll most likely be a fairly similar person as an adult.

I could definitely handle that. They’re pretty great human beings.

 

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To sum up: TJ is smart, funny, happy, introverted/socially independent, energetic, curious, and strong-willed. I hope he finds healthy ways to channel his need to push boundaries. I’m pretty sure he’ll do just fine in life, and will earn more than any other member of his family. Hopefully he’ll look after the rest of us when we need it.

I have many more fun years of TJ’s childhood to come. I suspect I’ll barely see him in his teens, but he’ll come through all right thanks to his strong sense of self. I think he’ll be a lot like his dad when he’s all grown up: largely content, a bit oblivious at times, and a contributing member of society with a small but solid core of nerdy friends.

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Christmas: Jesus, Gifts, and Stress

December 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm (Entries that matter, Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

So Christmas is about three things for me. (Cunning readers may guess what they are based on the title.)

This is the beginning of a three-part blog series on Christmas (aka holiday therapy for yours truly).

Fairly obviously for a Christian, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus aka the God I follow. Yes, I’m aware that the date is wrong and most of the traditions are stolen/borrowed from Pagan traditions, etc etc.

Still.

It is extraordinary that my God chose to set up a universe in which he himself would be required to be tortured and killed and condemned in order to show us in the clearest possible terms that being “saved” is a gift that he desperately wants to give us. Easter is at the heart of every Christian. It’s why we call it “Good” Friday when it’s marking the darkest day in the history of the universe.

In some ways, Christmas is even more shocking. The God of all creation had his nappy changed, was breast fed, struggled with toilet training, and probably grew up wondering in his heart of hearts why he always found the smell of manure strangely comforting.

For those just tuning in, I have two kids of my own. Currently Lousiette is 6-nearly-7 and TJ is 4 and a half. Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B:

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It is incredible to think about the whole “having a kid” thing. These two started off as nothing more than a goofy hypothetical notion, then Chris and I MADE them… but they were only about this big:

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And now they walk and talk and have opinions and dreams and say all kinds of weird and wonderful things both good and bad. In the blink of an eye they’ll be as old as I am now—then older—perhaps with kids of their own, and jobs, and much stronger opinions that I may find utterly horrifying.

How can a tiny dot grow into a whole person?

It’s part of the glorious nonsense of being alive.

Even more bonkers is the idea that God could squash himself down to fit into that tiny dot.

Exhibit C:

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And even more bonkers is… why?

Jesus spent thirty-three years on Earth, as a man. He was sweaty, and he was sometimes attracted to people he didn’t want to be attracted to, and he ate freshly-baked bread, and he sometimes disagreed with his mum and brothers, and he lived through the death of his mortal dad. Why didn’t he just skip the whole ‘being human’ thing, get crucified, and save the world over a single rather intense long weekend?

It wrecks my mind that he chose to become one of us. He really understands, from our side, what it’s like to be mortal: messy, scary, and smelly.

I love that.

I even made a little YouTube video trying to point out just how bizarre it is that God really did become a slob like one of us.

It’s a mishmash of different messages really. Is it just an excuse to show off old pics of my kids? Is it a brilliant mix of the carnal and the divine? Is it just too much fun to see babies looking wise/annoyed/gassy? You can make up your own mind. There are a couple of other baby pics in there too so go ahead and play “spot the cousin” if you like.)

 

So. When Jesus Christ, creator and saviour, was born, he probably looked not that much different from my own brown-eyed, dark-haired TJ (although being from the Middle East, Jesus would have had darker skin):

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If you want to know what God looks like, that’s pretty similar to one part of it.

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Insert Toilet Joke Here

August 11, 2018 at 11:49 am (Love and CJ)

August is an exciting month.

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GammaCon (where that pic was taken) is over for another year (it RULED by the way) but the Canberra Writers’ Festival is approaching (23-26 August) and I’ll be launching TWO books that weekend.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday will be launched with a week-long art exhibition at The Front cafe and gallery in Lyneham.

The official launch is 3:30-5:00pm on Saturday 25th, and at least two of the visual artists plan to be there.

——–

And the final book in my steampunk fantasy trilogy, Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights will be launched as an official part of the Canberra Writers Festival at Old Parliament House (aka The Museum of Australian Democracy) in Kings’ Hall 2:45-3:15pm Sunday August 26.

I’ll be selling all my stuff at both launches.

They’re also in stock (including Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday and Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire, which are in the games section) at Dymocks Belconnen, which means all my books/games are super easy to order into any Dymocks store (but especially Tuggeranong, which is linked to Belco).

 

But that’s not why I’m blogging today.

I’m blogging because of an event far rarer and more impressive than a book launch. I usually release a book a year… but this is something that hasn’t happened since TJ was born.

I did a proper clean of the toilet.

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I cleaned the whole room, including the floor and walls (there was quite a bit of blood on the wall*). Just look at how clean it is!

Chris and I are talking fairly seriously about dividing up our house so we can take a tenant (tenant rather than room-mate because they’d have a separate entrance and loo). So that’s why I was suddenly enthusiastic about cleaning… because it’s likely this will be my toilet soon.

Sidebar: I suspect any artworks that are unsold at the end of the exhibition will be in with a chance of making an impromptu gallery in this one tiny clean part of my house. A rather dubious honour, I think. But the above cleanliness is somewhat bland, don’t you agree?

Regular readers will know that we recently said goodbye to Princess Ana after ten fluffy years, and that a house without a cat is unthinkable. (As I write this, the wind is banging the cat flap, and I keep expecting Ana to walk in and glare at me in that adorable cat manner.)

That’s one of the VERY early pic of TJ and Ana. There are many more.

it is to TJ’s credit that he prefers an older cat. I am not a good enough person to adopt an older cat. I enjoy the short, playfully unco months of kittenhood, and I also like a cat that I’ve trained myself.

So at some stage soon we’ll get a kitten. Squeee!

But we’ll most likely get a tenant and kitten at around the same time, because kittens are fun and tenants are not. So dangling a future kitten in my mind keeps me motivated to continue figuring out how to fit all our stuff into smaller and smaller spaces.

I’ve donated three large garbage bags of clothes to charity/friends in the last few weeks—mostly my own. A lot of my outfits dated back to pre-Chris romances, which was quite a trip down memory lane. My general body shape has been extremely haywire for the last 8 years due to two enormous babies, various medical conditions, and an operation. Now that I’ve had the stomach op, though, I have a better idea of my proportions relative to one another. That’s helpful.

I kept some of my ‘optimistic’ clothes (including some gorgeous dresses) but put them in a box until next year.

Not for the first time, I noticed that I talk to myself a lot (and also talk to inanimate objects). Yet another reason to get a cat, amirite? That way at least I’m talking to an animal. Ana was always very helpful when a plot wasn’t working right and needed workshopping.

So that’s where life is at the moment. How about you?

*Louisette has really dramatic blood noses. I couldn’t tell you how long ago that particular stain happened; I rarely use that toilet so if you’ve visited us in the last three months… sorry ’bout that. You’ll also be pleased to hear that we changed the toilet seat to an adult sized version instead of the miniature one that we’ve been making people-who-are-not-us use for the last five years.

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How to Make an Epic Dino Cake

June 9, 2018 at 4:10 pm (Food, Love and CJ, Videos)

My son turned four this week, and asked for a dinosaur cake. Once I had the revelation that (a) I don’t like cake, so (b) Why bother making it? but (c) I do like creating peculiar things, and (d) The only thing they’ll eat is a horrifying amount of icing anyway… It all fell into place.

Or at least, it fell.

TJ is a winter baby (which means parties must be inside), and his father, grandfather, uncle, and oldest cousin all have birthdays within about a week. So I arranged to have two parties today: one for TJ’s friends (at an inside playground with a dino room), and one for his numerous relations (at my house).

That meant I could make a single giant cake and use leftovers for party #2.

There are two basic schools of thought for dinosaur cakes: One big dinosaur, or a scene with several dinosaurs. In my opinion, the one big dino cake takes more skill. Sure, there are dino-shaped cake tins out there, but you still need to be able to have smooth icing. Not gonna happen.

I was clever enough to assemble the cake at the location of the party, rather than attempting to carry it safely in a vehicle (and to take my own knives and large containers in which to bring home the leftovers). I was also clever enough to order the base from Woolworths. I ordered a basic slab cake, two layers, no icing. It was $20. I took three layers off part of it, and moved them to the top at the back. Voila! A cliff face ready for a waterfall.

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At Woolies I’d previously bought various items: edible glue (which I couldn’t figure out how to open, so I hacked it open with a knife; used it to stick cupcake topper sheets around the sides), writing icing (used for the blue lines in the water), Natural Confectionary dinosaurs, and a full roll of “ready rolled icing” suitable for a 22cm round cake, which I sliced into shapes with a butter knife for the water.

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I’d made a double portion of chocolate buttercream icing at home (it needs to either be made or re-mixed on the day or the butter hardens and it’s useless), which had a pleasantly different texture to my “water”. I spread it in a hurry, and quite thick, so it just covered the top. I was using my hands and laughing maniacally at this stage, rather aware of my deadline as one of the kids had to leave early and there was another party using the room at 12, etc etc. The buttercream icing had enough stickiness to draw up some of the cake, and it also struggled a bit to hold onto the “cliff”. But it worked well enough. As you can see, smooth flat icing is not my forte (not that I was particularly trying this time).

This icing was easy to shove about, and it was great for standing up little dinosaurs later.

 

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I had prepared some desiccated coconut ages earlier with food dye, intending it to be green grass but it was too blue so I chucked it in the water.

The trees didn’t really work (but who cares? They’re made of Tim Tams, mint leaves, and lolly bananas), although leaning them against the cliff helped (the edible glue didn’t—using icing might have worked a little).

The mountains and volcanoes are “chocolate” waffle cones. I’ll go into more detail about the volcanoes in a bit…

The flowers were a pack of edible flowers I impulse bought at Woolies when I was examining sundry icing/sprinkle products for inspiration.

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I also used:

-Green and yellow sprinkles for grass/sand. (If your child is very scientific, this is not the cake for them… grass is a relatively recent plant.)

-Edible white balls from the same pack to be dino eggs (quite a stretch).

-Dino candles (they are parading across the water at the top of the waterfall. I presume this is how they became extinct. That, and being on fire). Ebay.

-Lots of fondant dinosaurs from ebay (actually, I was pretty happy with them despite how fragile they are. They mostly survived the post and last a long while (weeks), and taste better than anything rice paper-ish).

-Dino sprinkles around the edge of the water (SO not necessary… AND mixed with other sprinkles… but TJ was rather taken with the idea of dino sprinkles).

-Strawberry topping carefully applied around the edges of the volcanoes for lava (it was important that none of the topping got inside the volcanoes).

-Mini plastic dinos (tube of 20 or so for $4 from Kmart and I dropped some in each party bag afterwards), and two wind-up dinos ($3 each at Kmart).

-Dino cupcake toppers for the sides of the cake (stuck on with “edible glue” from Woolies), and Tim Tams.

As you can see, the aesthetic I was going for was: I bought a whole lotta vaguely cake-related stuff and I aim to use it ALL.

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So there it is in all its glory.

Now let’s talk volcanoes.

I dug two holes in the cake, and inserted small empty (clean) coke bottles (I experimented with other shapes and the mini soft drink bottle worked best). Then I broke a hole in the pointy end of two waffle cones and placed them over the top.

I was careful to make the bottle hole and cone hole match up as well as possible. You can see one of the bottles in the top of this pic:

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The cones did shatter a fair bit, but they fundamentally worked.

Bring a SEALED bottle of DIET red (the colour doesn’t matter; a lot of people use Coke because the dark colour is more dramatic but obviously red was better here).

At the last moment, fill both bottles. Then drop two MINT MENTOS into each one.

NB: The red diet drink I used uses stevia (considered a more ‘natural’ sweetener than the old chemical ones that have a number and/or a multisyllabic name). A LESS natural drink is likely to cause a greater explosion.

 

My daughter and her friend held the wind-up dinosaurs and let them go when I said, “Now!” and dropped the mentos into the volcanoes.

I lit the candles before pouring the diet soft drink into the bottles.

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The familarrr

February 18, 2018 at 5:45 pm (Interactive Fiction Tutorials, Love and CJ, Mum Stuff, My Novels, Pirates, Rahana Stories)

Edit: For those of you who keep telling me you wish you could make it to one of my Interactive Fiction workshops (I generally run one at Conflux every October long weekend), here’s a video course I made on udemy: Introduction to Interactive Fiction. It’s $20.


 

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This was, of course, taken at the Pirate Ball & Book Launch last night.

Here’s some more:

 

Time for a rest!

My next public event is a talk/workshop on Interactive Fiction at the University of Canberra on Friday 2 March 5:30-7:30pm. It’s a rare opportunity to talk IF with me for free, and it’s open to the public.

If you read the dedication to Silver and Stone you’ll know that this group took me in when I was scrambling to write the second Antipodean Queen book. They’re a smart & friendly crowd and I recommend checking them out.

Their facebook page is here.

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Christmas Letter

November 22, 2017 at 11:31 pm (Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

Each year I make a calendar (using Vistaprint) for the following year, in which the photos roughly correlate with the same months of the previous year.

I sure hope that sentence makes sense.

For example, this was taken in March, during which Canberra hosts a massive international hot air balloon festival every year.

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So, what did we get up to this year?

In very early January we went camping with some of our Hong Kong relatives, which the kids were desperate to do. Those relatives became first-time parents this year, so we have another cousin now!

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Lots of health dramas this year for both Louisette (inattentive ADD) and myself (lots of things, some of which have improved or been fixed—and I’m finally getting my stomach stitched together this month!)

Also lots of sleepovers with cousins.

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Lots of AWESOME writing stuff happening. In fact there are two Very Big Things I can’t talk about yet!

CHOICES THAT MATTER: AND THEIR SOULS WERE EATEN has had more than half a million downloads, and most people love it (there are loads of reviews on Google Play and not so many on itunes, despite the fact there are actually more sales on itunes). And next year I’ll finish the ANTIPODEAN QUEEN Australian steampunk trilogy of novels (strange, since I wrote HEART OF BRASS before Louisette was born), and start releasing my middle grade Heest trilogy. Plus I’ll release MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY, which is so ridiculously fun and different. And probably do more stuff I don’t know about yet!

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Chris switched jobs due to his previous job getting automated. He’s naturally content and handles such things much more gracefully than I do.

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Louisette is close to finishing her first year of Kindy. Other than the ADD-related stuff, she’s had a great year. She has some really excellent friends, and is taking more responsibility for things like packing her own school bag. It’s crazy how quickly kids learn to read, considering how complex it is. In the moment, of course, every word feels like it takes a million years (especially when the kid has ADD and the parents have either ADD or various other mental problems). Louisette also lost her first tooth, and won a school prize for the house-car-plane model we made together.

Her kindness and/or cleverness sometimes takes my breath away. Talking to her or sharing ideas with her is sheer pleasure.

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TJ turned 3 (we went to the zoo in a big group of cousins and friends), and became deeply obsessed with puzzles. He’s unusually good with letters and numbers, in part because he’s a smart kid and in part because Louisette loves teaching him (consciously preparing him for Kindy, which is two years away) and he adores her.

The kids continue to get on really well (most of the time).

Also, trains.

TJ is full of newfound imaginative skills (‘Tiggy’ was his first imaginary friend) and spends a lot of his time being the absolute perfect ideal of a happy and funny 3-year old boy. His laugh is so infectious.

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Um… what else?

Horseriding and cat-patting.

We (that is, the kids and I) also went to Telstra Tower twice this year, which TJ in particular enjoys talking about every time we see it (so, pretty much whenever we step outdoors).

We all had birthdays, and we’ll be having Christmas soon.

So that was our year, as far as I can remember it: Doctors and writing for me, job change for Chris, Kindy and maniacal laughter for/from the kids.

And the inevitable Christmas pic:

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And this is why digital cameras are awesome: because we get to keep all the truly terrible pictures taken along the way.

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Santa’s been into the egg nog, it seems.

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Santa get on the sauce and punched an angel. Allegedly.

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No paparazzi!

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48 hours

October 6, 2017 at 12:06 pm (Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

A few minutes ago, Chris and the kids drove away. They’re going to Sydney to stay in a house by a beach with relatives. I’m not going to see any of them for about two days.

The idea of sending them off without me has the ring of genius about it. Today is the last day of school holidays, and we’ve saved money (and spent large chunks of my sanity) by not enrolling Louisette in holiday care. She’s in Kindy this year, and the holidays are just as awful as I expected. (Louisette herself is very low-maintenance most of the time, but I’m just not well enough to deal with kids 24/7.)

I’m literally shaking from the stress of packing the car and getting everyone out and away… but they’re gone now. My time is my own until Sunday, and anything I put away or clean will stay put away or clean until then.

I can watch grown-up TV during the day. I can fix household items without anyone begging to ‘help’. I can cook without anyone loudly yelling that they won’t eat it. I can eat whole meals without having to get up even once. I can work as long as I like, and sleep when I like. I can go the the toilet by myself. I don’t have to dread the usual morning battles. I don’t have to get out of my PJs until Monday.

As I was talking about this glorious weekend, more than one person said, “Or you could, you know, rest. Or maybe do something fun.” Those words literally don’t make sense to me. I have to try to think past the layers of panic, pain, and guilt and then use a dose of imagination.

TV. I like TV. And reading. And napping. So I’ll definitely do all of those things.

And I’ll put all the toys where they belong. And do a ‘toy swap’ (where some are brought out of hiding while others are put away). And maybe clean the bathrooms. And hopefully write somewhere between 10 and 20,000 words. And maybe sort the medicine shelf. And some of the study. And the kids’ rooms. And maybe the pantry cupboard. And I’ll definitely give the kitchen a _proper_ clean, including the oven. And some of the junk spots that we have here and there all over the house. And the winter/summer clothes. And wash all the bedlinen.

The writing will be fun. Plus it will lead to less oh-shit-I’m-behind-on-everything stress, and also some pay. Pay is important.

I can’t help feeling there’s something desperately wrong with our society that makes people (women, of course I mean women) plan an entire free weekend around work and cleaning. But I hope that at the end of this weekend I’ll be ahead on work and temporarily less swallowed up by guilt, and I can be present for the things that are actually fun—being with Chris, and being with my family.

I remember that being fun. It will be fun again.

A conflux pic taken by Cat Sparks:

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One-Quarter

January 30, 2017 at 9:54 pm (Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

As I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room today, I realised something.

My job as a parent is to love my kids and help them grow up to be vaguely functional, content, and decent adults (to the extent that is possible). John Scalzi recently wrote a lovely post on his daughter’s 18th, opening with:

Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.”

As you know, dear reader, Louisette just turned five. She is a schoolgirl now, not a baby or a toddler or a pre-schooler or even an “under-five”.

If you consider adulthood to fall around the age of twenty, then my vital task of being the mother of this particular child is already one-quarter finished. Obviously I’ll still be Louisette’s mother after that, but we will both be adults – equals – and, I hope, friends.

Five and a bit years ago, Louisette opened her eyes for the first time.

Now she walks and talks and has opinions and best friends and flaws and skills and dreams. She is herself; different to anyone else in the world.

Another five years, and she’ll be ten. Tall and long-haired, and showing the first signs of puberty. Ten year olds can have intelligent conversations with anyone. They’re smarter and better than most adults, to be honest. When I taught K-10 Indonesian, it was the ten-year olds that I liked the most.

Five years after that, she’ll be fifteen, and utterly different. She’ll have a much better idea of who she is and who she wants to be. She’ll be well past puberty; wearing bras and flirting with boys. Maybe even dating (ugh! no!). She’ll have secrets from me—important secrets. She might barely speak to me at all. She might be learning to drive, or deciding where to apply for her first job. Any movie I can watch, she can watch with me.

Five years after that, she’ll be twenty. She’ll be her own creature more than she is mine, even if we still share the same house. She’ll probably already have at least one serious heartbreak behind her. She can think rationally about marriage, and will know whether she wants children or not.

Five years after that, I might be a grandmother.

All that in the blink of an eye.

 

Time for another collage! Stat!

 

 

 

 

That final photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au at the National Arboretum.

And I’ll end with another great quote from another great author (in this case, Pamela Freeman*), who is a facebook friend of mine (I knew her before she was as famous as she is now) and said, “Here’s another weird thought: she might be a quarter of the way towards being adult, but it’s the most important quarter. You’ve laid down positive brain chemistry, taught her how to love and how to think, and whatever you’ve done now is likely it: even puberty won’t shape her brain more than you have already done. I find this both scary and reassuring.”

Writers make the best facebook comments.

Since I seem to be quoting writers today, here’s some Tolstoy: “From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance.”

Which is more or less what Pamela Freeman (and various psychologists) said, but in Tolstoy’s inimitable style.

*She writes a bunch of different genres from historical drama to glorious fantasy to children’s books. I just finished reading the second “Princess Betony” book with Louisette, a chapter a night (and freely altering the scary bits to be less scary).

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Two-fifths of TJ

January 22, 2017 at 11:39 pm (Daily Awesomeness, Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

Sick of excessive scrolling through literally hundreds of pics, I’m gathering some of TJ’s baby pics here. It’s two-fifths of TJ because they’re only from his first year, and he’s now two and a half.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The artist formerly known as Miss Four

January 22, 2017 at 10:21 am (Love and CJ, Mum Stuff, Project 365: A picture a day for a year)

Last Sunday, Louisette turned five. She’s about to start Kindy. Today was her party.

Five years. She’s grown all the way from a giddying hypothetical notion to a wrinkly spew machine to a distinct person: smart, focused, creative, affectionate, gentle, passionate, and gorgeous. I took a photo a day for the first year of each of my kids lives, and those daily photos are here (TJ first, since he’s more recent) if you’re in the mood for a lot of scrolling.

Look at that girl!

(This photo and the next were taken on a professional shoot with Thorson Photography.)

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Right now I feel like just plastering every wall of my home with photos of my kids.

All the most horrifying statistics about kids are “this many kids under five die of such-and-such”. Now that Louisette has turned five, I’m pretty sure she’s going to live forever. We made it this far, right? RIGHT???

Kindy. (Note to self: Learn how to spell Kindergarten. GAR-ten. You can’t rely on five attempts and a spell checker every single time…)

Kindy is the beginning of a new era. It’s a relatively easy transition for Louisette since it’s located literally next door to her day care centre (which she’s been attending since she was a year old; at the party today there were three kids she’s been friends with since that time – and a total of six pre-existing friends who will be in Kindy with her).

Louisette is deliriously excited about Kindy as well as being quite nervous (probably because every adult in her life is so obsessed with Kindy that it’s making it seem like a much bigger life event than it is). She’ll wear a uniform and have school holidays (she’s five weeks into the longest holidays of her life right now). It changes the routine of our family – we’re finally taking both kids to the same school (sort of; TJ is in the day care of course), but the kids have significantly different routines now.

TJ has long days Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, and nothing Thursday-Friday.

Louisette is 9:00am-3:00pm every weekday (I’ll pick her up two hours before TJ) and then has school holidays completely free.

I’m hoping that I can use the syncopated routines to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid. They’re different creatures when they’re the only one around (which is part of why siblings are so wonderful; they open up a new part of who your kid is). I’ve had pretty bad anxiety ever since TJ was born, mainly because of health stuff. But a part of that anxiety is the need to divide my attention between them and/or make sure they’re not killing each other every ten seconds or so. Hopefully the one-on-one time will help my brain to stop panicking, and will also give me many of those marvellous, surprising moments when my kids and I are truly connected and I’m suddenly overthrown by awe and happiness and pride and love. I hope there’s a correlation between “time parent spends with little kids” and “time adult kids spend with aged parents” because I don’t want to miss any piece of their lives.

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(ProTip for mothers who feel ugly in pics after pregnancy: Hide behind children. Or, where possible, behind a tree.)

When Louisette was an infant we were at a playgroup for mums with babies all born within about a month of each other (one of those “babies” is the non-TJ gentleman in this picture, who has never missed Louisette’s birthday and who also happens to possess two top-notch parents for myself and Chris to play with while the kids do their thing).

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I noticed that a lot of one-year olds were miserable and/or terrified at their own party. The party wasn’t for them, it was for all the friends and family who loved them. But I decided that although I’d always have a party for my kids, I’d also make sure they did something on their birthday day that was for THEM. In the years since, it’s evolved to “family + activity” on the birthday day; then later a party day (my sister’s kids come to both).

On Louisette’s birthday day we went on a small local waterslide – Chris, TJ, Louisette, myself, my sister, and her two kids. It was great! Then we had lunch with my parents (including my sister and her two kids), and dinner with Chris’s parents, followed by Louisette having a sleepover at their house AND spending the entire next day with them! So THAT worked.

Louisette has been planning her party since her last party and I’ve been actively prepping for months. (Exhibit A: party bag prep)

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Party bags are a blight upon the face of the earth: junk food, noise-makers, choking hazards, and cheap horrors that fall apart (inspiring much weeping) before the guest gets to their car for the ride home. Having said that, Louisette and TJ are obsessed with them, and so is everyone their age. Since I can prep the bags ahead of time, and choose things that aren’t too irritating to me personally, I don’t truly mind the phenomenon.

Kids also loooove pass the parcel. To a kid, pass the parcel means “A PRESENT FOR ME OH AWESOMES” but when it’s actually happening it means “I AM BEING TAUNTED BY EVERYONE ELSE GETTING GIFTS AND WHEN IS IT MY TURN AND WHY DIDN’T *I* GET THE FLASHING EDIBLE BUNNY BECAUSE NOW I’VE SEEN IT I WANTS IT MY PRECIOUS WAAAAAHHH!!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pass the parcel game happen without at least one kid sobbing. (When the kids are older they’ll get better at it and more realistic.) Last year each layer had a bunch of lollies to share with everyone! Yay! It confused and over-sugared the children, but it was a nice idea. This year my sister was moving house literally today so I said she should drop her kids and leave, and could drop them way before the party started. I had the brilliant idea of having a pre-party pass-the-parcel with exactly the right number of layers for just those four kids, and a new pirate paddle pool in the centre (coordinated to make sure one of my kids got it, to avoid confusion). It went great. (Although one of the other kids—who was having a snotty day anyway—was devastated an hour later that the party didn’t appear to include pass the parcel.)

After months of party-oriented discussion Louisette decided to have a pirate and mermaid party (exactly as she did last year—”in case some people are scared of pirates”), and I encouraged her to make it a pool party. Why? Because at this age, popularity is easy, and I can give it to my daughter for a few dollars. Pool = awesome.

We always have lots of water play at Louisette’s party, and it’s always a hit with the kids (plus super easy to clean up, and it means the inside space is quiet and neat). Chalk is also popular and easy (our house is rendered, which makes it fun to draw on), so I put some chalk outside, and a table (with fruit and fairy bread; water and cups; sunscreen and towels). I hired 1.5 babysitters (the .5 had her own kids there too) for water safety and parental freedom, and barely went outside at all. I ran the party as two overlapping parties, making it clear in the invitations that parents of confident swimmers didn’t need to go outside (in the heat and noise) at all. This cunning plan fundamentally worked. I served a fresh Devonshire Tea (chosen for simplicity while sounding fancy and adult) to anyone who wanted it, and actually enjoyed it myself. It was relatively easy to hold a grown-up conversation, which is pretty amazing considering there were twenty children on the premises. I think a few adults were weirded out about my overt enthusiasm for shoving the children outside, but oh well.

Louisette and I made an ice cream cake again, topped with faux water made from desiccated coconut and colouring (I had reports some of the kids were a bit freaked out, wondering what it was), and with lego people swimming in it. I had one friend distract the kids with the Hokey Pokey while another helped me serve up the cake. That lowered the chaos slightly, and was simple, harmless, fun that suited even the two-year olds.

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I always need a massive debrief after Louisette’s party. This blog was it. I really like the kids my kid hangs out with, and I like their parents too. We talked a lot about Kindy, and uniforms, and school stationary, and eccentric in-laws. Grown-up talking! Yay!

Look at these gorgeous kids!

Louisette’s birthday is the social centre of my year (TJ is a winter baby + a more introverted kid + not born in the major school holidays, so I invite a few close friends to his party but invite pretty much everyone Louisette knows to her parties).

See that blond cherub? I invited him and his sister to Louisette’s party last year without realising they were siblings. That day was the beginning of a whole-family friendship which is one of the best things that happened last year. That boy is TJ’s best friend, his sister is Louisette’s best friend, and Chris and I both like hanging out with their mum.

And here’s a pic of Louisette from her first birthday.

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I loved her with my whole heart that day, but I really do love her more and more as each year passes.

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