50 metres of fear

The school swimming carnival. Urgh. I remember, with revulsion, 13 years of the head aching noise, and pressure to stand up on the blocks and fail in front of everyone. Sportsperson of the year, I was not.
However, our Mr 8 is a sportsperson. He can't get enough soccer, he excels at tennis, basketball, anything he puts his perfect hand-eye coordination to. My husband and I always marvel at this miracle, being as we can't throw a ball between us.
But swimming...well, we found out last year that this was not something that came naturally to our little man. Because at his first ever school swimming carnival, he - in his words - "drowned". Jumped off the blocks, plopped 2 metres down to the bottom of the pool, and, well, stayed there.
I'd just left - after he assured me he would not be racing, which I would confidently have put money on at the time. I didn't, however, factor in that he would get carried along with his friends in the hype of all going in the pool together.
My first surprise came immediately after this event:  "I need to learn how to swim mum," he stated, got straight in the pool at swimming lessons and powered on to learn all the strokes perfectly, within 6 months. There's my little sportsman now!
Fast forward and we find ourselves in the utterly merciless carnival chaos again.
This time however, we were prepared. We'd practised in a deep pool, jumped off the scary blocks, and worked some nice lengthy swims into his repertoire.
So, we were ready.

Except that we weren't.

You can't train to get rid of fear.
And it hit us both when we got there.
We sat quietly.  He stayed with me, over in the corner, when normally he would be off mucking around with his friends. We took it all in, and I tried gently to nudge him, but definitely not make him.
He did a couple of novelty things.
Silently he took himself off to test drive the slow lane - as if telling me he was going in that pool would make it too real to him.
All in his own time, I realised.
He was so nervous, that he didn't eat.
Then he stood up and said, "I'm going in the 50 metres breaststroke."
50 METRES!!!
Instead, "ok, good boy" came out of my mouth.
I must admit, I cowered around. I asked the marshals to look out for him, and they put him in the side lane.
He sat there waiting for his race to be called, still, quiet, contemplating; his beautiful brown eyes looking down the barrel of that lane reaching forever out in front of him.
His friends, also waiting for the race, were completely pumped, shouting, bouncing around, enjoying it. This time though, I don't think it was about doing something with them, or even the pressure to perform well in front of them. The look on his little face was that he needed to do this for himself.
And all of a sudden, he was back there again, jumping into that abyss.
He swam. His normally beautiful, long, gliding breast stroke, was jerking about on the top of the water, like he'd forgotten the basics - I panicked that he was panicking.
I could see the point where his asthma kicked in, and he started looking around him for somewhere to stop and breathe.
"Keep going, you're doing so well!" My goodness if I could have thrown him a rope and dragged him back to me I would have.
He touched the wall, heaving chest, completely out of breath, confused about what to do next - because he'd never made it to the end before in a race... Ha! HE'D MADE IT!!!
It wasn't til later that night when I'd tucked everyone down into their beds, that I sat down and had a little tear (ok, a flood) of pride in him. What an achievement. I wish I had been that brave at school swimming carnivals.
Now, if I hear myself saying, "I can't", I will always think of this little boy, sitting at the beginning of his 50 metres of fear, how he harnessed his mind, flexed his bravery, and said, "I can".

I can’t be a mute mother.

I just read that I am no longer allowed to call my daughter beautiful, because it’s forming the opinion in her head that beautiful looking is what matters. That she has to retain the flawless face of her three year old self, aim for the figure of Miranda Kerr (which she has never had and never will have, my yummy little stocky girl), be scarred by terrible eating disorders, failed romantic encounters, the whole frightening shebang. I'm petrified of all this stuff for my daughter.
In the same week I've also read I'm not allowed to call her a "good girl", because it perpetuates the glass ceiling. It stifles her want to be dominant, a risk taker, and all those other things that being a leader requires. It says she has to remain bound by 18th century corseted social rules - sit in the corner and read your Jane Austen you, you, female you!
I understand this theory, I really do, and believe me, I'm the last person who wants to damage my children's self esteem.
But it is very hard for me not to say these things because, well, my daughter is beautiful. Stunning. Everyone tells me thus. She has huge, summer-sky blue eyes, framed by long dark lashes, a button nose, ruby red cherub lips, and the most amazing curly hair. Me, of the limp, permed-three-times-in-a-week-and-still-poker-straight variety, has aimed for this kind of hair all my life. And I've made it on my daughters head. And now - I can't believe it - I'm not allowed to call it beautiful!
However, physically gorgeous as she looks, when I call her "my beautiful girl", I am usually referring to her beautiful personality. Because she has come into the room early morning, with sleepy doe eyes, with hair to rival Mad Einstein, clearly still waking up but nevertheless sporting a huge smile on her face (how I wish I could do that), and she bumbles toward me with one thing on her mind - a big cuddle good morning. That, is beautiful, no other word for it.
I also can’t help but proclaim "good girl", when her preschool teacher tells me she's well rounded, friends with everyone, inclusive of all (and not exclusive, apparently a trait three year old girls display already - eek!). Is this not a "good" quality that should be encouraged in my "girl"?
The experts suggest changing the way you express it. So, in this instance, I need to say "Well done Stable Personality (nothing to do with looks). What a balanced attitude you are displaying at preschool, not adhering to gender pigeon-holing. MUMMY WILL GET YOU AN ICECREAM!!!" (Or is that not allowed?)
Show me one parent who has not gazed down at their hairy, peeling-skinned, purple-pink in colour, nose squashed into chin newborn and fallen into tears at how "beautiful" they think they are? Even if they do look like an alien cross ape, a newborn baby is nothing but the word beautiful.
I also call my three boys Beautiful. Or, "Would you mind helping me with the dishwasher please Gorgeous" Or, "calm down Blossom, let me show you how to do it." Rarely do they get their real name when I refer to any of my children - and if I do try, it’s usually arrived at after tripping over their brothers’ and sister’s names first.
So if I call my boys Beautiful, Blossum and Gorgeous, am I also setting up their self image as Boy Barbie? Am I encouraging femininity? But it’s ok to be male and feminine nowadays, isn't it? Or am I smothering their maleness by using a feminine term for them? Or is beautiful even a feminine term now? Wow, I'm really feeling the pressure here.
Is this what we want - to have girls who are not too beautiful, play with matchbox cars and never wear a skirt, and boys who are not too beautiful, who'll nurse a doll, and wear pink shorts, so that everyone is, well, the same?
I'm so confused.
And now that I think of it, does this mean I can't read my daughter stories about fairies anymore? Because Fairy Pengiuns now have to be called Little Penguins. "And the little gender-non-specific-not-wearing-a-sparkly-dress-or being-a-good-someone person, hid in the bushes waiting for the family to get home..." I guess hiding in the bushes when you're not a fairy is taboo too now.
My life has been full of the "fairies" this change of wording aims to stop offending. And I couldn't be more thankful - in fact, I feel very special to have had so many people who are not the standard norm in my young life growing up - all of them showing me their individual "beauty", and teaching me lessons on how to be "good" in this life. I think it has made me a more tolerant and accepting person. Qualities which I really hope I can help grow in my children. "Good" qualities for a person to have.
I don't think I can stop myself calling my children beautiful or gorgeous and blurting out "good boy!" or "good girl!" when they've exhibited qualities I wish to encourage, or I’m just downright proud of. I think it tells them I love them - it comes tumbling out of my mouth without restraint and unconditional love. I'd be no good at a measured, well thought out statement that by the time I have concocted it in my head the moment has passed and they've no idea what I'm talking about.
I want to raise children who ARE gorgeous, beautiful, fun, loving, caring, strong and just plain old wonderful all over.
But, they came out like this anyway. No need to try so hard.

Cry for help

The grey-sky coloured curtain transmitted a whimper from the other side. I'd not heard a sound like it before. It was...empty. Like it felt ineffectual, but it had to escape the broken little body, the aching mind, that held it.
The TV ran incessantly in the background and had done for the last many hours, since about 4am, when the whimpering began, in the darkness.
It never got louder, it ceased a few times, but not for long. Whimpering doesn't get much of a break apparently, before it needs to be let out again. 
It travelled right down through all my senses. I heard it. It stung my eyes with tears. I could smell its hopelessness. It settled on my heart and has never left.
Later the curtain was pulled back, and I saw a little girl of about two years old lying back in the bed, big eyes looking at nothing. Her nappy was swollen, her breakfast untouched because no one had yet fed her. A nurse had hastily given her a bottle and promised softly to be back as soon as she could, to nurture her. I knew I wasn't allowed to cuddle her or feed her because we were in the hospital Isolation ward.
Boy, was she isolated. 
Later, her young mother came in with a friend, rustling paper McDonalds bags, swearing loudly on mobile phones and teaching me things you could do with men that I'd never heard of before. 
"Oh baby garl, mi baby garl. We get you outta here, 'dose naughdy nurses, 'dem not gonna keep you 'ere, you mi baby garl..."
Then back to the mobile and talk of tonight's appointment with Jack Daniels.
A nurse quietly comes in and sits with the mother. "Why you not gif my baby garl brea'fast?" the young mum accuses.
The nurse calmly asks if its possible for the mother to come and be with her daughter a bit more, because the daughter can't yet talk to tell them what's wrong, only a mother can help interpret such things. And she may be going downhill again.
"I don have d' bus money to be 'ere all d' bloody time."
Later a volunteer tells me this little soul has just come out of three months in intensive care. Her life could yet still hang in the balance. And it's down to the nurses to watch for this, along with caring for all the other very sick children.
The nurses responsibility is enormous, and heartbreaking. But they go about their business, caring for the most vulnerable, comforting mothers and fathers, informing doctors, saving lives. 
And being mum to those without one.
The Children's Hospital Gold Telethon starts on Monday at 9am. Please give, to support the amazing work it does.



I am trying to embrace my Underwoman at the moment.
This is not a woman running around with a cape and undies on her head (although this would be a good tension-reducing look for one night when everything's going jellybelly-up). No, this, is a woman who is currently trying to slow things down in her life, to UNDER-achieve, shock horror.
A week in the life of Underwoman involves missing the kids haircut appointment (but the hairdresser understood and still took us back the next week); forgetting important school events (but the other beautiful school mums remind me); driving to school in my slippers (but my kids pointed it out...loudly...at the school gate...); a lot of takeaway food (which anyone privvy to my cooking knows is only a good thing); and asking for help (revelation of all revelations - you get some! Which makes life easier. I know, surprising).
I always toss up between these two sayings:
"Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive and well preserved body,
But rather to skid in sideways,
chocolate in one hand,
wine in the other,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
"WOO HOO what a ride!" "

"Don't hurry. Don't worry. You're only here for a short visit. So don't forget to stop and smell the roses"
Much of my life I have been the opposite to Underwoman - an over achieving, ten-to-the-dozen woman. Skidding in sideways, was me. But, of late, a few things have made me realise its time to stop and smell the roses.
Like, the fact that Little Blue is our last bubba. Must. Breathe. Him. In. And. Enjoy. Every. Millisecond.
And, being sick for a long time, which now makes me want to enjoy all the little things I have been unable to recently.  All the little things in my life are all my little human beings. Who won't be little for very long.
And, I sometimes wonder, if I wasn't rushing and rallying to be the perfect Wonderwomum when our third bubba was born, maybe I'd  have caught her illness earlier than I did (not blaming, just wondering what if). Was I too busy taking Wonderwomum compliments rather than taking note?
And because, as my little ones become big ones, it will be less about major meltdowns, having a fully equipped organic superfood lunch box and getting four kids to their 3 afterschool activities each, and more about a teeny mood shift or slightly downcast look in the eyes, which will dictate where I'm needed.
And simply because, well, what's the point again Wonderwomum?  I can't see past your flapping cape. Or is it my flapping undies?

Yummy Scrummy

My name is Mummy, I have a confession I need to make
It involves all my children, from whom I take
It’s not their money, or their innocence so sweet
I take little nibbles, of their belly’s, chin and cheek.
You see my babies are edible, deliciously so
All sugary pink, like a soft marshmallow.
I also need to mention, little fingers and toes
So kissable when I spy them – oh, and then there’s the nose!
And now onto bottoms…this may be taboo
But there’s nothing more delectable, than a dimply cheek or two!
 We have our bounce about poppet, Little Miss Moo
Her most delectable cheeks, framed by melt-me-eyes blue
Master 6 is our, Mr Larger Than Life
His whole smiling body, causing gastronomic strife
His giggle, vivacious, little legs full of fun
My hunger to cuddle him is as big as the sun
Even Master 7, still makes my tummy rumble
I could have big school boy belly
Topped with oh-so-proud crumble
But simply most edible, is our little Newborn Blue,
He’s soft and squishy, and yummy and new
He looks up at me, with eyes all milk drunkie,
Relaxed and so trusting, my beautiful monkey
I feel an overwhelming urge, to nuzzle right in
And kiss him, and snuggle right into his chin
How blessed we are, to have such delicousness so close
As I snack on an ear, I promise to make the most.

Princess Kate's morning sickness

as seen on Mamamia - http://www.mamamia.com.au/health-wellbeing/kate-middleton-hyperemesis-gravidarum/

So, Princess Kate has Hyperemesis Gravidarum – described as “acute morning sickness”.

Pfft. This is what it really feels like…

A week or so before your period is due, waves of nausea interrupt your day, and one evening you start to vomit. By the time you do your pregnancy test, you are vomiting a couple of times a day – you know you must be pregnant before that little blue line tells you. But instead of being a joyful celebration of a much longed-for baby, the moment is fraught with fear about how you’ll cope with this level of nausea and vomiting for the predicted 12 weeks. Little do you know Hyperemesis Gravidarum bypasses this magic number completely, often lasting for at least half the pregnancy, sometimes the whole nine months.

You start being kept awake at night with nausea – no position you lay in will ease it, even rolling ever-so gently causes you to vomit and the only thing you can do is cry. This is not “morning”, it is the middle of the night… morning is much worse. You try and get out of bed and carry on with your life as normal, but it causes violent vomiting, time and time again. After vomiting for the seventh time in an hour you start counting, in both disbelief and deep fear.

After a week, you find this devastating nausea never leaves, and the incessant vomiting is going on all day and sporadically throughout the night. You are crippled with sickness, rendered bedridden 24 hours a day. You’re desperately worried about your baby, because you have not been able to eat a morsel of food, and the thought of putting some liquid down your throat brings on a swell of nausea and more vomiting. Yet you’re so thirsty – you’re hot, you feel dry and arid inside, and all you want to do is gulp great glassfuls of some sort of liquid. You shiver as if with a fever, but it’s your body responding to dehydration.

You haven’t showered because the one time you tried, the raining drops were enough to make your weakened body so faint you had to lie on the floor tiles. Reaching up to turn off the tap was all you could manage until someone came and dressed you and carried you back to bed.

After three weeks of nothing to eat or drink you feel skeletal. Your husband forces you to go to the doctor. The car trip seems undoable, but somehow he gets you there, stopping many times for the relentless vomiting. The doctor looks at your grey face, your lips cracked and bleeding with dehydration, your dried out tongue stuck to the inside of your mouth, your weight loss of nine kilos in three weeks. He admits you immediately into hospital.

The hospital staff take seven attempts to insert a canular into veins which are so dehydrated they keep collapsing. Then they leave you, attached to life giving nutrients and fluids. The nausea and vomiting continues but despite this after a few days you feel as if you might not die. But they will not let you leave the ward until you can drink by yourself, and this is still proving impossible – small sips of room temperature water, flat lemonade, ginger beer, even sucking on ice cubes – you have tried everything the nurses have suggested but still it causes vomiting.

The doctor decides to administer IV anti-nausea medication. It finally provides a window of relief and for the first time in weeks you manage some small sips of apple juice. You are allowed to go home with an oral version of the anti-nausea medication. Doctors and midwives assure you repeatedly that it is safe for your baby; that the malnutrition and dehydration is far worse for both of you.

However, the oral version proves ineffective and you are back lying on the Emergency department floor vomiting. You are only eight weeks pregnant, and do not yet realise that this condition can last all pregnancy. You’ve started to lose the will to survive this, and there is no end in sight.

The doctors are calling this thing Hyperemesis Gravidarum. It is not morning sickness – it’s a different kettle of fish altogether, when your life stops, you’re bedridden and you cannot achieve something as simple as a sip of water. You read later in researching Hyperemesis that English novelist Charlotte Bronte died of the condition in 1855.

The implications of the condition are: Use of medication throughout the pregnancy to slow the vomiting and reduce the nausea – an anti-emetic used by Chemotherapy patients commonly. Then there will be regular hospital stays to keep rehydration up. If these things are not proving effective enough, then there are steroids, but like all options, there are side effects for the mother and baby in some cases. If this doesn’t work you are looking at spending the whole pregnancy in hospital, drinking via a drip, and receiving nutrients via a feeding tube – in some cases one inserted into the jugular bypassing the stomach.

And if none of this works? In rare cases, we have to look at saving both the mother and baby’s lives, they say, and deliver early – some cases as early as 26 weeks gestation.

All you can do is look at them in disbelief. How is it possible that pregnancy is so natural to most women in this world, and yet making this little life can have put you on a path that in the past has caused death?

Personally, I consider myself lucky. My Hyperemesis lasts for about seven months of the pregnancy, then changes to morning sickness - just one little vomit a day with all day nausea, til the end. I have taken the drugs, to the open disgust of some people, and most of the time I feel as if they’re ineffective because I still end up in hospital, and what I really want them to do is take the torture away altogether. But I cannot do nothing, because then I would feel as if I was just welcoming that dying feeling.

But you know what? This is the fourth time I have lived through Hyperemesis Gravidarum. And you know why? Because there is no prize more worth it.

But until then, let’s not forget that Princess Kate is not suffering “acute morning sickness”: She is suffering hell.

The Pest Scale

Many parents number their children. You know, “Number 1 goes to school now, number 2 is at preschool and number 3 is at home with me.”

Me, I have decided I will also number my children, but my numbers will go backwards. And that is because I use the Pest Scale Numbering System.

The mathematical equation behind this piece of genius, if I do say so myself, is this: The further down the line you are in birth order (for example, the traditional ‘Number 3’), the bigger the pest you are, therefore the further you move up the Pest Scale. Number 1 being The Ultimate Pest.

At times I am fooled into thinking our first born is not a pest at all. He was always our quiet little mouse, never said boo, never wanted to cause trouble, always wanted to be a good boy. And he is still like that somewhere deep inside. Now though, he has learned school yard attitood. I know it’s a survival necessity, and in a way I am pleased my quiet little mouse is keeping up and not being trodden all over. But it does bring out pest qualities at home. Anyway, he is at the lower end of the pest scale. A number 3.

Our second born is also our Number 2 on the Pest Scale. Since nearly birth he has climbed all over his big brother, and pestered him in ways I never knew existed – nag, pull, push, jump on, take things away from and wake him up in the early morning because he’s bored. He isLOUD, all the time, and he loves to play tricks on his parents. Like the time he pulled daddy’s shorts down in Bunnings hardware store….at the cash register….with a loooooong queue behind them.

God bless Pest Number 2.

And our third born, aged 2.5 years old, well, right now she is throwing very small pieces from the game we were quietly playing earlier, toward all corners of the house. Whilst yelling. Or perhaps it is singing – I can’t tell because they happen at the same volume intensity. Definitely Pest Numero Uno, Star of the Pest-giving Day. Now she is stuffing those same small pieces in Number 2’s pyjama pants. She has drawn on walls untouched by the two boys before her, and she can fart the loudest, usually squarely placed close to a brother's face. She answers the “Ok, I’m going now… leaving you behind” in the shopping centre, with a "bye" and wave in the opposite direction. She torments number 2 – her first sentence was “He did it!”, and pits Pest 3 Number against Pest Number 2 right when their getting on really well. Her father is planning her chastity belt now.

Major. Pest.

Now that I think of it, she’s at a good age to teach the pull pants down trick….