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What it says on the jar

It’s that time of the year again. By which of course I mean my Mother in Law’s birthday.

Every time, Husband and I have the same conversation. What to get for the woman who has everything?

Two years ago, in answer that very question (posited by Husband) I said, “What about pus?”

Her Goatiness has two passions: goats and pus. Happily, one kind of goes with the other, or comes from the udder, or whatever; what I’m saying is there’s a symbiosis. She talks about pus obsessively – almost lyrically – and can transport you to another world as she holds forth over dinner about some abscess she lanced with a pointy stick and the quality, quantity, smell and texture of the pus trickling through her fingers. Or preferably gushing.

At least when Andrew gives out to me for talking about barf at the table (I don’t mean to; it’s reflexive; seems to just naturally come up, as it were), I can say, “Yeah well, it’s not as bad as pus.”

And for those of you who might argue that it’s much of a muchness, it’s a well-reasoned point and I’ll certainly consider it on advisement.

“A bucket of pus!” I said, excitedly. “She’ll LOVE it.”

Husband looked dubious but that’s just TOTALLY WHAT HE DOES i.e. throw shade all over my idea(s) while proffering no semi-valid suggestions never mind solutions.

Therefore I set about putting together my Mother in Law’s birthday present. I would have preferred the presentation of pus in a bucket or vat, but due to logistical issues I downgraded to a mason jar. Ideally I would have collected a large sampling from a range of festering, septic wounds around Waitaki, but time was against me; and also, although I love my Mother in Law, I just . . . don’t love her that much.

I opted for the pus aesthetic: a litre of homemade custard, with raspberries stirred in for an authentic blood-streaked visual effect.

Jar of pus

So I’m drawing a blank on what to get Her Goatiness this year – I mean: how can you beat a Jar of Pus? I KNOW!

Which reminds me: I’d better get on to planning Saoirse’s birthday

Shredding the pow

I’ve recently had to take up snowboarding.

No, no, it’s TERRIBLE. The Irish aren’t genetically optimised for skimming over snow at high speeds. No. We’re built more for kicking soggy peat while extremely drunk. When I was growing up, skiing was an activity exclusively pursued by posh people or wankers. Or posh wankers. And of course, snowboards hadn’t been invented in those days.

Then I fell for a Kiwi and, in addition to making bacon and egg pie, another requirement was learning to negotiate snow.

I chose snowboarding because it was sooo obviously waaay cooler than skiing. (Note: had I been 10 years younger this might well have been quantifiably accurate.)

At the time we were living in Dubai, so I learned to snowboard at the indoor ski slope freshly erected in the middle of the desert. The place was always packed with Arab teenagers who combined a maximum of – let’s call it – enthusiasm, and a minimum of any discernible skill. Every time we visited, there’d be someone staggering off the slope with a gash across the forehead and their brains flopping out; or you’d see the blood splattered across the snow. It was like the aftermath of an Orc battle . . . or, you know, the living room after I’ve got the kids to bed. Anyway, it wasn’t what you might call a nurturing learning environment; and when I broke my right wrist I was just thankful it wasn’t my head.

For more than a decade, I have successfully avoided snapping on a pair of bindings. But then we moved to Wanaka and Finn’s primary school runs a five-week ski program during Term 3. We enrolled Finn for a cost of approximately $200 which included his lift pass and lessons. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and I reluctantly put my name down as Finn’s secondary (in this instance) parent in case Husband was unable to go due to breaking all his limbs in a chairlift incident.

The last time I was at Cardrona, I ended up in the resort’s Medical Centre with a busted knee. In fairness, I was nursing a supermarket injury at the time so it wasn’t fully attributable to snowboarding . . . anyway: more context. The second week, when Husband asked if I wanted to come along, I thought I should so I could conclusively say, “Look, it’s obvs not my jam, but you can’t say I didn’t try.”

I was gratified that my snowboard boots still fit 15 years on, and I dug out my late ‘90s ski jacket and the pair of ski pants from the Oamaru Opshop featuring an absolutely snorting camel-toe effect. When we got to the ski field, I was gutted to find that lift passes and lessons for accompanying adults on the School Ski Programme were half price, since that removed any remaining excuse at my disposal.

“What you need a lesson for?” scoffed Husband with his own unique brand of crazed confidence. “It’ll come back to you. Like riding a bike.”

I reminded him how riding a bike after a 15 year hiatus went for me, and signed up for a lesson. Our instructor Carlo had a deep-rooted antipathy towards skiiers. “Dey strappa ona a paira skiis and da brain it stopsa,” he announced happily to the ski field at large.

The lesson was simple stuff: how to do up your bindings; how to skate; go uphill with one boot strapped; use the heel edge; brake. Y’all know how I hate giving any quarter to Husband’s credibility, but it WAS coming back to me (although not like riding a fucking bike, at all).

Then Carlo moved onto boarding on toe edge, which has always been my particular downfall whether literally or figuratively (take your pick). “To mova onto your toe edge you just poka out your tummy simple,” he declared. When he demonstrated it did indeed look well easy – and in any case, I need no encouragement to stick out my stomach.

However, it had little to no effect on anything apart from intensifying cameltoe.

Undaunted, when the lesson finished I took myself off up the learner slope to practise my falling leaf and PEEPS I totally crushed it, embodying a world-class aerodynamic fucking leaf, floating gracefully yet purposefully through the air before settling on level ground with immutable precision.

When I got home that night, after buying a second-hand pair of wrist-guards, I searched YouTube for ‘beginner snowboarding’, ‘how to toe slide’ and ‘how to turn’. Well, I was a fucking genius before I even hit the slope thanks to my man Kevin from snowboardprocamp. The following week, over and over, I tramped up the learner slope (there was usually a 20 minute wait for the conveyor) and practiced basic exercises.

I started saying things like, “I was totally shredding it yo but stacked it in a yard sale blatting over some gnarly mougs dude,” and “Woah dude see how much air I caught? Sick!”

(Sorry- can I just- take a moment to discuss how the word ‘sick’ appears to have entered parlance as a positive description. I mean, what?! Have you seen the stuff? It’s horrid – and also highly corrosive. I’m waiting for the word ‘deadly’ to make a comeback. It was a great word: implying something was so awesome it could POTENTIALLY BE FATAL. Bring back deadly!)

Husband is particularly unimpressed that I now address him as ‘dude’. Also that I’ve acquired about five ski jackets off Trademe. And I’m all: “But look! It’s a limited edition embossed Roxy jacket with diamante detailing!” and he’s all: “Yeah, shame it’s about three sizes too big.”

I scored a second-hand snowboard, and replaced most of my ski kit the same way. Any time I venture online my browser is besieged with adverts for ski pants on sale – although so far I haven’t found anything superior to the camel-toe pants. Guess I’ll have to keep looking.

 

Checking out the Snow Farm

 

I’d love to end this post carving down the slope on a high note, but Husband is rethwarting my ambition to Dominate on a snowboard. He has a history of twiddling around on skiis smack bang in the middle of my line; or asking me open questions while I’m negotiating tricky turns. Here’s some videographic evidence, from- wait a moment and I’ll tell you exactly- April 2006:-

 

 

Last Thursday that blasted man – you might know him better as Husband – persuaded me to come down what, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to describe as an expert run, in a whiteout. I couldn’t even see the trail flags. When I nearly flew off a steep bank near the top, I suspected I was on an express route to Destination Fucked – although I guess it wasn’t that express since it took me an hour and a half to descend. I skidded down most of the mountain at an extreme degree of lop-sidedness; several splats later, when I face-planted and slid several metres on my chin, I actually fucking CRIED.

I thought I’d pulled a muscle in my leg but it turned out to be just bruising, as per my arse – and the rest of me.

So it’s back to the learner slope for me – and the doghouse for DUDE

I fought the law and the Facebook bitch won

You know how sometimes you commit a crime, like, totally by mistake?

Happens to everyone: I KNOW!

(That’s what I tried to tell the police, but their response was noncommittal.)

So . . . last month, I accidentally stole a bike. Here’s how it went down: the kids and I were kicking around at the playground and as the sun set we were the last die-hard revellers. I lashed my protesting progeny into their carseats (“But Mummy I didn’t go on da slide Mummee!” “Saoirse, PUT your ARMS in the STRAPS!”) and, as I limped to the driver seat, I noticed a bike abandoned by the barbeque stand.

Obvs some kid had legged it home forgetting he’d got there by pedal-power, perhaps pausing momentarily by the backdoor to wonder why he had a bike helmet on his head.

So I took the bike. For safekeeping. Tried not to project furtiveness as I scanned the playground for the owner; then downplayed the suspicious efficiency with which I loaded it onto the suspiciously available bike-rack affixed to the back of the Prius.

I suffered a twinge of doubt as I pulled away slowly (to avoid the suspicious screech of rubber on asphalt) which wasn’t helped by the kids asking why I had taken someone’s bike and was it ours now? – but I was cheered by my charitable act of good goodness.

As soon as I got home, I posted to the local Facebook Page:

Lost your bike?
Picked up an unlocked bike at The Playground this evening – PM me if it’s yours.

The post gathered a number of likes (although I was confused by several shocked :-O Reactions) until someone finally commented: “Nobody locks their bike at The Playground.”

I tried to defrost the chilly overtone with my response and got a bit of banter going about bikenapping HAHAHA, until ‘April*’ (*Her real Facebook name) commented: ‘Look can you return the bike and delete this post because it just draws attention to the fact that the kids leave their bikes unlocked at The Playground’.

It’s comforting to know we live in such an honest, caring community.

Although WOWSERS kinda fucking bitchy.

I deleted the post because, despite being a fucking bitch, well, um, she had a point.

However I didn’t return the bike because yanno SHE CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

But also, having taken the bike, if someone even bitchier stole it after I’d returned it, then that would technically be my fault.

You see?

The following day I drove back to The Playground and plastered printed notices with my contact details around the place.

The day after that, nobody had responded to the notice.

That night I couldn’t sleep what with trying to come to terms with my new identity as a Criminal Mastermind.

OK FINE!

Criminal Cretin.

I had nightmares about Husband visiting me in prison, his jaw clenched in pain and anger, muttering: “I just want to know one thing: why did you do it?”

Me: “By the time I realised, I was in too deep! Will you- will you wait for me?”

Husband: “Yeah look, probably not.”

And my poor, malnourished children, crying: “Mummy I love you!” “Mummy when are you coming home mummeee? Daddy’s cooking is stinky-poo.”

And me, sobbing: “Sweeties, I’m so so sorry, but I’m not up for parole for three more years,” then staggering back to my cell bandy-legged from the cigarettes stashed up my bum (and I don’t even smoke).

Actually, Husband found it all certifiably hilarious, and whenever I tried to discuss The Situation he reverted to uncontrollable sniggering.

On Friday – four days after the heist – I decided to turn myself in.

Fittingly, it was lashing rain.

“I’ve committed a crime,” I announced to the officer on duty.

He appraised me in my mummy scarf and mummy pumps, evaporating the discernible reek of rank dog, and totally judged me.

It was evidently a slow evening at Wanaka Police Station, so he called over a colleague: “Pam, get the handcuffs. Lady here stole a bike.” Then he made me repeat the story, occasionally interjecting with a ploddy question.

It was less than stellar police-work and, frankly, I was offended by how lightly he and his colleague treated the whole affair. I felt like saying, “Oy, pigs: it’s not like I nicked a chip of some toddler’s plate. Stole a fackin set of wheels, din’ I?”

But that would have been, well, rude; so I waited politely until they’d finished snorting.

Pam advised me to drop the bike into the station – any time; she was on duty until Monday morning – but since I was extremely uncomfortable being in possession of stolen good, I went straight home, collected the bike and committed it into the loving embrace of the long arms of the law.

As I drove away, my phone blonked.

Text message> Hi, I think you took my sons bike out of concern for theft?? Where can he come collect it from?

Me> Hi, yes I did, terribly sorry; didn’t understand bikes are generally left unlocked at The Playground. I dropped it into the Police Station literally 5 mins ago, he can grab it there. Cheers

The Mother> Oh gosh really?

The Mother> Oh dear

The Mother> Can you pop back there?

Not Me> You ‘avin a fackin larf, sweetheart?

I called The Mother. Per the largely one-sided conversation, I think apparently her car was at the garage?? (oh yeah see how I was right onto her like cheap lycra??) and the bike wouldn’t fit in her work van because it was full of crap and she was so busy (subtext: it was raining so hard and she hadn’t finished her limited edition boxset of the last season of Game of Thrones) so would I deliver it to her house, preferably tonight because her son wanted to use it over the weekend?

So I returned to the station, where Pam was probably thinking I would be less trouble if I actually were a hardened criminal who could dispense cigarettes out my sphincter. She was pretty grumpy about having to fetch the bike from the storage room.

When I got to the house, The Injured Party himself opened the door. He scowled silently.

“Hi!” I chirped, then: “Oh, right- oh, here’s your bike! Sorry um . . .” I skulked soggily for a moment, waiting for him to say thanks – or anything – to no avail. He glared me all the way back to my car. I made sure to bypass all churches on the way home, in case I was impaled by a lightning rod.

So that’s the last fucking time I do a good turn.

Only kidding! I’ll always be that busybody buttinsky who asks the child in the carpark where his mother is when she’s right behind him; or picks up the distressed toddler for a headbutt; or performs an active drowning victim rear rescue on the teenager in the pool who merely has an inelegant freestyle. Because although I might get it wrong more often than not, I hope and trust other people will do the same for my kids

Molly the Morepork

We had an unexpected house guest last weekend.

When I collected Finn from school on Friday, he had a tatty toy with an acute case of glaucoma clenched under one arm. “Teacher said I could have it for the weekend!” he said. Molly the Morepork was a hand-puppet which could rotate her head a full 360+°.

It was only when we got home that I discovered a scrapbook in Finn’s bag entitled ‘Molly’s Diary’.

The front page stated: ‘Hi, I’m Molly and this is my diary! You can write in here about what we did, or paste some photos or draw some pictures! Thank you for having me!’

Er, you’re welcome?

I mean objectively I can appreciate what a terrific idea Molly’s Diary is: it’s a great way to get to know Finn’s classmates and a bit about their families; introduce a new kid; find out what sort of activities there are around the place; and it presents a great learning opportunity to discover more about the taxonomy and habitat of Ninox novaeseelandiae via stuffed toys or something. But since Finn can’t write much more than his name, age, ‘dad’ and ‘mum’, it was effectively homework for me.

“What the fuck am I going to do with her?” I hissed at Husband on Skype. He was off with his dog for the weekend blasting away ducks, an arrangement so convenient you’d almost think it was planned. Which I suppose it was; but it also had the rancid stench of conspiracy theory, like the staged moon landings. Yeah right so I’m supposed to believe the shadow in the photo frame is not a boom mic but instead some sort of wild lunar poodle? SURE.

“Look at this,” I muttered, holding Molly’s Diary up to the iPad camera. “The level of hospitality- it’s unrealistically high. This fucking morepork has been abseiling, tramping, biking, water-skiing . . . look! She toasts marshmallows over an open flame! Jesus Christ, is that Molly with Graeme Norton?”

“You just want everyone to think Finn’s life is awesome,” said Husband.

Well, duh.

“NOOO,” I snapped. “I just don’t want anyone thinking Finn’s life totally blows. You know, like: wow Finn watches a lot of telly, poor child mustn’t have a bike. Does he eat anything other than porridge? The thrills. OMG I can’t handle this pressure!”

And I mightn’t have believed him had he said something like: “Sweet Cheeks, our family is almost illegally awesome and you are going to crush it,” but it would have been better than just LAUGHING.

Husband seemed happily oblivious to the obvious: if I fucked up the Molly’s Diary initiation test, Finn would be eating his porridge sandwiches in the corner of the playground, ALONE, FOREVER.

In the end, I did my best. Which is all you can do and the lesson I prefer to extract from this whole exercise. Although I diligently took photos of Finn and Molly, our printer had until recently been in storage and on Sunday evening Husband provided telephone support as I linked it to my laptop. We had a sum total of two blank sheets of paper in the house and I – inexplicably – managed to print the photos across BOTH sheets in a sort of T-formation.

I finally finished my homework at about midnight on Sunday, and Finn added some pictures the following morning. I only gave him artistic direction twice.

Maybe three times.

Molly the Morepork, line drawing in biro on scrapbook paper, by Finn Tomes age 5. The kids’ craft stuff is lost in the vastness of storage space, so Finn had to make do with a couple of pens scavenged from the bottom of my handbag

 

The following Monday, we bought the kids a set of coloured pens. I suppose I should probably have addressed that for Molly’s Diary 😦

 

Molly experienced a lot of skilled lego-craft. The drawings are spiders and a moth, because that’s what Molly eats

 

H&S: of course, we made sure our guest was safely restrained

 

Molly and Finn explore the eastern shore of Lake Hawea on Saturday

 

Pebble-surfing

 

Molly’s a busy owl and had to take some client calls

 

Finn tests the buoyancy of his lego lifeboat

 

Muddy bike-ride in Dublin Bay on Sunday. Molly was asleep since she’s nocturnal and was exhausted. I understood EXACTLY how she felt

Is it five years yet?

Ok, where to start? Another coffee: yes, great plan. Right, let me just push aside the dark mists of Time – there we go – wait; oh that’s Weather not dark mist – and revisit 2011, when we decided to move to Oamaru.

When I say ‘we’, alright alright FINE it was mainly me. Although when Husband points this out (admittedly not as frequently as I would were our positions reversed), in all fairness: I have no idea what he was thinking, letting me get away with it. I was foetus-afflicted and hormone-riddled and in a penultimate stage of epic broodiness; clearly in no fit state to be dictating such momentous life-choices.

The only condition Husband imposed on relocating was a term limit of five years. At the time, I huffed:

“OMG why do we have to put a timeframe on it? Why can’t we live there as long as it works out, vis a vis indefinitely? This just sooo doesn’t align with my free fucking spirit. Pass me that croissant – yeah just brush the coffee grounds off it – that’s grand mmm.”

Fast forward to 2015, and I’m all: “Say Husband, is it five years yet?”

And so we started thinking about where we wanted to bring up our children. For a while we considered Picton, but rejected it as too far away from Her Goatiness and Agent of Death; we also spent some time skulking around Queenstown but decided it was too . . . you know . . . too . . . Queenstown.

I’m not sure why Wanaka wasn’t an obvious choice; maybe because Agent of Death frequently and apropos of nothing growls, “Who the fack would want to live in Wanaka?” I’m not sure what I’ve ever responded, but given my cultural imperative to please, probably something along the lines of, “Yeah, Wanaka with its stupid lake and stuff, hurhurhur”. Until instead the answer was, “Um, maybe us?”

Towards the end of 2015, we started scouting real estate in Wanaka. We spent several weekends looking at pricey and vaguely preposterous properties before realising there was little to nothing that accommodated two people working from home. My job is part-time and flexible and, although I can work leaning against the kitchen bench with a spatula in the other hand, I’d prefer to gainfully employ myself at a workstation in between the scary parts of Turbo The Snail.

However, since Husband runs his business from home, he needs an office which can accommodate Excessive Technology™ (a recent upgrade from Enough Technology™), and nothing we viewed offered anything appropriate for Husband’s office that wasn’t acoustically compromised; or tucked under a stairs; or didn’t feature a stunning vista of the neighbour’s bathroom.

The situation was further complicated by Husband not liking any of the houses I did.

Eventually we decided if we’re going to ransom our children’s education for a house, it needs to tick all the boxes, and the only way to achieve that is to build our own. Coincidentally this plan aligns with Husband’s life-goal to build a house, which he presented in detail supported by a feasibility study, strategic case and realistic contingency plans on our second date. You can see how I knew he was A Keeper.

So last year we bought a section in Wanaka.

Christmas 2010

Instant online processing

Last night at around 20:00hrs I was packing for my 09:00 flight to Australia this morning . . .

 

So regular reader(s) of Deadlyjelly know EXACTLY where this is going. Which is: further than me. I invite those not familiar with my travel (or equally often static) patterns to read this for a general overview of my tempestuous relationship with transportation.

 

Back to the packing. Stuffing handfuls of knickers into my computer bag, I said to Husband: “So do I get a visa at the airport?”

 

And he said, “WHAT?!?! NIAMHIE, DIDN’T YOU ARRANGE A VISA?”

 

WELL OBVIOUSLY I DIDN’T ARRANGE A FUCKING VISA BECAUSE I HAVE A FUCKING IRISH PASSPORT WHICH I PAID GOOD MONEY FOR TO ENSURE THAT THING GRANTS ME ACCESS TO EVERYWHERE.

 

Travel has become so complicated: first you had to have a passport to go anywhere interesting, and now you need a visa AS WELL?

 

With my customary impeccable timing, Immigration Australia had closed half an hour earlier. “Better see if you can get one online,” barked Husband.

 

Immigration Australia only offers online applications for ETA visas to a select few passport holders including Brunei – Darussalam. I can feel a complaint to The Republic of Ireland coming on. I mean honestly, what’s the point? I might as well be Somalian.

 

For a fee of USD $40, migrationexpert.com.au claimed ‘instant online processing’. What this actually means is instant online processing of credit card details. The instant online confirmation stated: ‘Your visa will be ready within 5 days’.

 

At this point, Andrew ordered me to finish packing, while he stormed the living room air-chopping and pressing his phone to his ear with one finger. I gotta tell you: it was insanely sexy and such a turn-on.

 

Unfortunately, this effect was cancelled out by his having spent the previous 20 minutes sitting on the sofa being industriously useless muttering, “You’ll never get a visa before the flight.”

 

The packing wasn’t going well (I kept interrupting Andrew with helpful suggestions e.g. “Let’s see if there’s a number on the website so we can phone them and shout”). I’d given up on it to email my mate Maxine to inform her I wouldn’t be able to make it, when an email from migrationexpert popped up in bold saying my ETA had been granted.

 

It was long after I’d finished packing – around 23:00hrs – when I got a message from Virgin Australian saying the flight had been delayed by eight hours . . .

 

. . . so PLENTY of time to arrange a visa

The Sign of the ‘L’

As I left the playground yesterday, I was carrying Saoirse while simultaneously performing a gravel eradication exercise in the region of her shoe. This couldn’t wait until we got to the car because: “NO MUMMY DERE’S STONES IN MY SHOES AND IT’S ON MY FOOTS GRAAARAAARGH!”

In short: it was essential the gravel be removed AT ONCE, or it might burrow through her skin and travel via her bloodstream to embed itself in her brain and then there’d be some fairly face-melting roaring – and it’s in the interest of the wider community to avoid that.

Anyway, there I was floundering across the playground through knee-deep gravel, Saoirse’s shoe in one hand and herself just about in the other when BLAM! it was like someone hit me in the face with a bat.

I’d walked into a monkey-bar at head-height.

“MUMMY! Did you bonka your head, MUMMEEE?” shrieked Saoirse solicitously.

And then, “MUMMY! YOU DROPPED MY SHOE, MUMMY!”

She was lucky I didn’t drop her too while I stumbled around fighting off stars and a large flock of assorted birds.

It was only when I’d reached the car and felt blood sliding down my face that I realised I’d split the skin across the bridge of my nose. I’m not entirely sure – but the injuries (two) suggest – that I collected the monkey-bar with my forehead and instinctively jerked my head back and up in order to wallop my nose OFF THE SAME BAR.

Husband came home and found me lying on the sofa with a bag of peas on my face.

“MUMMY BONKAD HER HEAD DADDY!” announced Saoirse in the manner of an MC introducing the next act.

After he found out what happened, Husband’s main concern was: “Did you feel like a muppet?”

For a while I thought I’d broken my nose, but after I realised it was just the motherfucker of all headaches I felt much better (and the Panadol helped). There’s a touch of periorbital discolouration . . . but that could be the result of less than six hours of sleep last night. Pretty standard around these parts.

Ebola leaf

Diseased grass

Diseased grass

After I’d put the kids to bed the other evening, I was out in the garden raking leaves. Yeah, I far prefer draping myself across the sofa stuffing crackers in my face and watching X-Factor worst auditions on Youtube, but those leaves aren’t going to rake themselves you know.

As for why I hadn’t raked leaves earlier in the day, well, I have two kids. Anyone who doesn’t graciously accept that as the ultimate, tiger-blood, champion all-stars, boss excuse that it is either has no children, and/or is a cock. But ok: Thursday was a chaotic scramble of keeping the children alive long enough to get them to care; editing a 6 page funding application which is one of two part-time jobs I work; massaging my sick dog; exploding hair; collecting the kids and not forgetting one or both; packing Finn’s rugby bag; finalising the application and distracting Saoirse from eating it while I delivered it while Andrew took Finn to rugby; and then the carnage surrounding dinner.

So your general, standard-issue day.

Also: leaves.

All over the lawn.

Shitloads of the fuckers.

There’s a dude at the bottom of our hill who occasionally leaves his floodlight on, and I turned on the outside light, and it was a lovely, still, clear night with loads of stars . . . perfectly suited to lying on the sofa with a plate of crackers, but there I was raking leaves.

I’m thinking: “Jesus H C this literally motherfucking rake is fucking USELESS,” because it didn’t seem to be picking up anything. I’d done about half the garden when I realised the rake was upside-down.

Things progressed much faster once I turned it around.

After about an hour and a half, the garden looked much better (what I could actually see of it).

At nine o’clock, when I went inside to make Husband his dinner, he said, “Nice wellies. So do you know why you’re raking leaves?”

“Because . . . it’s . . . on the task list on the blackboard?”

“Well, I suppose there’s that, yes. But also, if you leave them on the lawn it can cause grass disease. You know, I raked the lawn the other day and it only took me half an hour-”

“Well, you should probably just take care of it in future,” I said, clanging a frying-pan forcefully against the stove-top, “because you’re obviously more mentally and emotionally prepared for raking leaves-”

“No, I meant: you don’t have to rake up every single last leaf.”

“Well, what’s the fucking point, then?”

I mean: OF COURSE you’ve got to get every last single leaf, because otherwise where do you draw the line? Two leaves? Three? Four hundred? Exactly; you never know which leaf has Ebola, so you better get the lot of them

Thermonuclear guilt

Still relatively unscarred

Still relatively unscarred

Aw do I have to? Whyeeee? Alright alright ALRIGHT! Context, whatever.

So a few months ago I was at the local Toy Library, because now I’m the President I have important stuff to do there. You know, like naming our elk, and quality-testing plasma cars, and supergluing Strawberry Shortcake’s head back on because her neck is impractically flimsy. I also point at things, a lot.

Anyway, Fiona said, “I’ve gotta go soon. I collect Macey from school at three.”

At which point, my thought process went something like this: “Bo collecta! Makin moves yeah on the dance floor – what IS that song? I wish life were a musical. Then I could bust out the tunes and funky moves and people wouldn’t think I was crayzay. Re rewind. When the crowd say bo colleeecta. Crunch. Grindgrindgrindgrindgrind CLICK! FUUUCK!”

Because it was then I realised I’d forgotten to pick up Finn from kindy at 14:30.

I squealed out of the carpark on a dense cloud of burnt rubber. When I flung myself into kindy half an hour late, all the chairs were upside down on the tables and Finn was sitting dolefully on the floor with his backpack on.

“Sorry!” I gasped.

“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” said the ECEs kindly – but I refused to be appeased. I mean, I bet they say that to all the parents.

He probably had a better time there than at home, where there’s no playdough and he’s not allowed to stand on the sofa- ok look, there’s no way to make it better and I’m going to feel guilty about abandoning my child until my dying day.

So there’s the context: past, present and future.

Last week I was at the Toy Library, when I looked at my watch and it was-

“FUCKING TWO THIRTY!”

“Have you forgotten your child again?” asked Maria. I would have challenged her about the unnecessary emphasis she placed on the last word – I mean, I’d only forgotten Finn once – except I was thrashing it out the door.

I was only five minutes late and trying to gallop elegantly up the path when I met my mate, Maxine.

And her son, Q, said, “Hello, Niamh! What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Q! I’m here to pick up Finn!” I said, as if I were speaking to a four year old – which, in fairness, Q is – but also I admittedly gave Maxine a look conveying that perhaps she should spend more time doing some cognitive development role playing with her son because what the fuck else would I be doing there?

Then Q said, “Finn’s not at kindy. He doesn’t come on Tuesdays.”

While Maxine rolled around the ground laughing, realisation achingly slowly dawned that both my children, Finn and Saoirse, spend Tuesdays – pretty much all of them since Christmas – with their dad.

You think maybe that incident cancels out the other? Yeah no; I’m still dealing with thermonuclear levels of enriched, weapons-grade guilt. I imagine on my deathbed, saying: “Hey everyone listen up because this is my dying breath so it’s obviously pretty important – hey you! Put down the sausage roll and have some fucking respect! Dying breath, here! Ok anyway, look, I won’t draw it out much longer, but I really want to say this: I have no regrets in my life except that time I forgot to collect Finn from kindy: Son, I’m sorry! I’m so very, very sorry!”

<exhale>

<final curtain>

Blink of an eye

Life is a trickle of days and then you have kids and suddenly it’s a deluge. It sweeps you away, leaves you gasping for breath.

Finn started kindy last week.

It is such a privilege watching my children grow and I love being part of it but god, it makes my heart ache.

It feels like no time at all since I met that tiny scrap for the very first time. I remember the way he used to curl into me; the smell of his fuzzy little head; that gut-wrenching newborn cry; his gorgeous gurgle of a giggle; how I used to anticipate when he’d wake in the middle of the night, even when he was in another room. All the firsts: his first car trip; his first day home from the hospital; his first steps.

Over the course of your life, there are moments you never forget. Some are the obvious ones: your Inter Cert maths exam, the first day you arrive in the Middle East, your wedding day, the first time you whack a major commercial bank.

And many memories are surprising by virtue of their outstanding mundanity. One of the things that falls under this category is from when I was just a little older than Finn is now. The Oakleys occasionally drove me to school, and I still recall being dragged writhing, kicking and screaming, to their car. There are probably still fingernail-marks scored on the gate-post. I don’t know whether it was the same day or another, but I remember sitting on my teacher Mrs William’s knee, sobbing desolately.

The reason for it has not been preserved, but the memory is vivid enough that, even now, I can taste and feel and smell how distraught I was.

So I was anxious how Finn would adjust to kindy.

Well. My son walked into the place, threw off his jacket, cracked open a box of magnetic construction blocks and set into engineering a highway across the floor.

I stayed a few minutes to complete some forms and then said goodbye.

“Bye, Mum!” said Finn.

“Er. Can I have a hug? And a kiss?”

And Finn would probably have rolled his eyes if he weren’t giving me a look that clearly said, “Jeez, some people are so NEEDY.”

Since he’s a kind, thoughtful, considerate little fella, he was good enough to humour me.

There were tears.

I cried all the way home.

Finn at the end of the first day

Finn at the end of the first day

Driving underwater

In Auckland for my Father-In-Law’s 70th birthday party, we nipped out to buy some groceries and came back with a new car. It happens. The evidence is parked in our garage at the bottom of the garden.

Since my life isn’t challenging enough, I volunteered to drive it home to Oamaru: 1300km over four days – actually, 1400km with a detour via New Plymouth. It was going to be EPIC: wacky adventures, amazing experiences, vaguely creepy but ultimately benevolent strangers, the thrill of the open road.

Only two things threatened to interfere with that romantic vision: 1/ I was driving a fucking Toyota Prius, not a Ford T convertible; and 2/ my travel companions: two children (mine), one of whom takes entirely after me, which is an awful lot of potentially hazardous high-voltage complaining.

But I’d heard the weather is great this time of year, so that decided it.

My original plan consisted of messaging a friend I hadn’t seen since my wedding twelve years ago to say, “How are you? Would love to catch up! Hey, how about I stay at yours tonight? You can meet the kids!”

I was relieved to have committed minimal time, energy and strategizing to that particular plan when it turned out she had moved from Wellington over a year ago.

After a minor route adjustment, we were on our way to New Plymouth to stay with my Aunt-In-Law.

Exploring Mokau

Exploring Mokau

Ok, yes, sure, we can talk about the Prius, why not? To date, our primary family car has been a 1996 Toyota Hilux Surf, which we basically chose for the dog. Otherwise it has a number of advantages: it’s big enough for the whole family, it can drive over boulders, it has a towbar for motorbikes. On the downside: it isn’t the safest car on the road and doesn’t guzzle gas so much as gleefully wallow in it.

We needed a sensible second family car (Andrew: no, the Celica does NOT meet that description- yes, I know it fits everyone but we have to kind of wedge the dog- no, acceleration speed is not a critical factor in- look, we’ve been through this and- just no. Why? BECAUSE I FUCKING SAID SO) therefore Husband looked into what might suit our my requirements. Which were: size, safety and a minimum of four fucking doors PLEASE.

The Toyota Prius was by far the cheapest circa 2010 model that met all the given criteria with the added bonus that, as a hybrid, it does about 3000 miles to the gallon.

A door-friendly car that doesn’t feature at least eight cylinders is a major concession for Husband; a symbolic farewell to International Mysterious Manliness. I’m not sure he’s as inspired by the car’s ultra-low carbon emissions as the technology behind it. These cars are amazeballs: the battery is charged by the kinetic energy produced by the car. And when I found out the driver’s seat is heated, my toasty ass was just so fully on board.

One minor issue is the main car display, which is entirely in Japanese. According to the navigation system – which bizarrely features tiny swastikas, along with other symbols that wouldn’t look out of place tattoed across a Triad’s forehead – we spent a lot of the trip driving underwater.

The navigation display with tiny swastikas

The navigation display

This was slightly problematic on the first day, since Google Maps wasn’t working on my mobile and, after leaving SH1 at Taupiri, I had no idea where the fuck we were. I navigated by the stars until Andrew’s plane landed mid-morning and he called to offer technical support. He advised enabling the setting to connect to data services when roaming, which resolved the problem.

I’d never driven the SH39 to New Plymouth – Hobbit Country – and it was spectacular. After four hours of solid driving, the kids and I stopped on the coast at Mokau for a late lunch and some exploring.

We arrived at my Aunt-In-Law’s early enough for Finn and Saoirse to fully investigate some heavy-duty Duplo. Later, while the children slept, I looked into the ferry crossings for the following day. The only sailing we could realistically make was the Interislander at 14:45.

The AA Distance Calculator predicted the 353km journey to Wellington would take 5 hours 4 minutes. However, I preferred Google Maps’ estimate of 4 hours and 30 minutes; and I figured half an hour was quite enough time sitting around the Interislander carpark with kids fresh off a four and a half hour journey with – say – an extra hour added on for coffee, snacks, snuggles, dropped water bottles, phantom widdles and nappy related incidents; and – I don’t know – another half an hour for roadworks, detours and flat tires.

I aimed to leave at 08:00hrs, latest 08:15hrs, which meant we were on the road by 08:30hrs.

We just needed to cut down on the flat tires.

There was no paper

There was no paper in the back of the car

After three hours, we stopped at a BP for 20 minutes which somehow ended up being 40 – but not a problem – we were blazing down the SH1 bang on schedule – when Saoirse yarfed in the back.

Well, that took care of the epic part of the roadtrip brief.

I swear: she threw up mandarin segments untouched by human teeth, and an entire cheese stick still in one piece. Might even have been still in the wrapper.

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

I managed to pull onto the verge, put the hazards on, and fished Saoirse out of her carseat. We were an hour out of Wellington and she was absolutely putrescent; I changed her clothes and spent twenty minutes trying to soak up the boke with baby wipes. One and a half packets; a bitter exercise in futility.

By the time we were back on the road, complete with soggy supermarket bag of rancid clothes, we were officially Really Quite Late. At quarter past two and without any warning, Google Fucking Maps adjusted its Time to Destination from 5 minutes to 15.

THE FUCK?!?

Interislander rang again: “Are you nearly-“

“Yes, I’m fiftee-ive- fifive- no, I mean fifive- fuck!- FIVE minutes away. See you soon, byeee!”

I didn’t answer the phone next time it rang.

We were the last car to board.

In the food court, Saoirse recovered enough to eat Finn’s fish and chips as well as her own. Finn and I couldn’t manage much for the throbbing stench of stomach acid.

Fish and chips on the Interislander

Fish and chips on the Interislander

In addition to top-class hospitality, my lovely friend K in Blenheim provided full laundry service complete with folding. Late that evening, I dumped Saoirse’s carseat in K’s bath, chipped off the chunks and attempted to shampoo the padded parts on the straps.

Five days later, it still smells.

From Blenheim, we drove to Rakaia to stay with my friend Sinéad who has two children the same ages as Finn and Saoirse. This was the first time the kids demonstrated anything other than perplexing good cheer in the car, when Finn suffered a psychotic episode:-

Finn> “Stop! Stoppit! Stop saying ‘rabbit’! Mum, Saoirse keeps saying ‘rabbit’- NOOO! She said it again!”

Me> “Er-”

Saoirse> “WABBIT! WabbitwabbitwabbitwabbitWABBIT! HAHAHAHAHAAA!”

You can tell she’s my child.

During one of our daily phone calls, Andrew asked me whether I was enjoying the trip. It was hard to beat a couple of hours sipping margarita with Sinéad in her spa pool; that was pretty good.

But, in fact, I loved spending time with my children. LOVED it. Both responded to having my full attention to talk about the nature of free will and laws of physics . . . only kidding; mainly itemizing all the toys in Finn’s bedroom and shouting beep! beep! at lorries.

Despite having done the trip several times BC I underestimated how massive it was. They were phenomenal; they amazed me, awed me, both of them. Saoirse sat there chortling whenever she saw a tree; and Finn was so considerate – opening Saoirse’s water bottle and raisin packets for her and sharing out snack bars.

Finn (halfway from Picton to Rakaia)> “Mummy?”

Me> “Yes, sweetheart.”

Finn> “I’m happy. This is my happy face.”

Finn> <gurning at the rearview mirror>

I couldn’t have asked for better company.

Perhaps we’ve been overdoing the fire Health & Safety

Finn> Don’t go too near the fire, Daddy.

Andrew> That’s right, Finn-

Finn> Because if you do, you will DIE.

Andrew> Oh. Er . . .

Andrew> Yes, well, it’s very hot, but I don’t think I would . . .

Andrew> I might get a bit scorched around the edges, that’s all

Crazy diamond

May 2014 - Saoirse at 6 months; photo by Debbie

May 2014 – Saoirse at 6 months

Before my daughter was born, one of the (many) things I worried about was that she might take after me.

Oh look; it’s not that I dislike myself. I mean: I’m grand. I’m not psychotic, and only sociopathic to a socially acceptable degree. I’m exceptionally loyal and, if I like you, I’ll do most things within the legal spectrum for you. And OMG I am the most AMAZING drunk-dancer.

But on the other hand, I’m relatively stingy. My trash-talk is needlessly complicated and I’m prone to pedantry. I’m high-volume and a bossy britches and a bit of a know-it-all. Overall, I’m definitely most effective in small doses.

(Who needs character assassination when you can commit character suicide?)

Anyway. Saoirse’s little personality took a while to establish itself. As a newborn, she had reflux and wind and problems nursing. When she was just three weeks old, I contracted an infection and Saoirse lost weight dramatically. Perhaps as a consequence, she cleaved to me and nobody else could settle her, which was intense and precious yet at the same time wearying.

But also, Saoirse’s arrival was like a depth-charge into the heart of our family. Finn became demanding and clingy before completely rejecting me in favour of his father. In addition to working full-time, Husband took over Finn’s primary care, so after a couple of months we were all pretty blitzed. It is a source of some grief that, although Saoirse’s babyhood is more recent, I can recall Finn’s early weeks and months with better clarity than my daughter’s.

As Saoirse’s health improved and the dense fog of exhaustion gradually dissipated, we started noticing the colossal wattage of character packed into her tiny frame.

July 2014 - Saoirse toppling over

July 2014 – Saoirse toppling over

October 2014 - Saoirse wins the chomp-off against Dad

October 2014 – Saoirse wins the chomp-off against Dad

She is an indomitable little soul with a gigantic giggle which she deploys generously. On the B-side, she has a roar that would melt the face off you – and spins from joy to fury and back in an instant: “THIS IS FUCKING OUTRAGEOUS! I WILL COMPLAIN TO THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY! WHAT; WHO? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS YOU LOUSY BUNCH OF INCOMPETENT FUCKERS- Mummyyyyy! Aw, you picked me up – HURRAY! Snuggles?! MORE HURRAY! Mmm, I’m just going to gom your face a while. Know what you need? Drool! Which is something I just so happen to have in plentiful supply. Here’s some- eh, I’m feeling generous; have lots- let me just- rub it in with my tongue- oh, why don’t I just use my whole head? THERE!”

(So sorry about the language; I’ve no idea where she gets it.)

It’s difficult to tell whether or how badly Saoirse’s hurt, because she applies the same blood-curdling bellow to trapping her head in the rubbish bin as to biting my (obviously unanticipatedly gristly) cheek. However, she’s ridiculously easy to console. So far, there’s been no injury that hasn’t been instantly fixed with a snuggle.

It’s a different story when there’s a principle at stake – like the other evening, when she wept piteously complete with raw, wracking sobs for HALF AN HOUR because I wouldn’t let her eat the plug off the vacuum cleaner.

An intensely social little girl, she hasn’t stopped chatting since she started making sounds. Between Saoirse and myself, poor Andrew and Finn hardly get a word in edgeways.

July 2014 - Saoirse, Mum and a packet of butter

July 2014 – Saoirse, Mum and a packet of butter

When Finn was her age, we spent hours encouraging him to point, reach, roll, sit, crawl. Every microscopic achievement was celebrated, feted and photographed.

About three months ago, “Look! The baby!” I said, pointing. “She’s sitting.”

We all stared at Saoirse, who was, indeed, sitting; tapping her foot impatiently on the floor. Chances are she’d been doing so for weeks and we just hadn’t noticed. Saoirse has had to figure these things out by herself – although it doesn’t seem to have held her back. She’s such a determined little thing, I’m sure she saw it as a challenge.

In contrast to her older brother, Saoirse couldn’t wait to get going. After she mastered sitting she turned her considerable abilities to crawling and, within days, mastered a metronomic crawl of devastating speed. Shortly after this she was standing – although the closest she’s come to walking is an ecstatic wiggle she employs when laid out on the floor. It looks like if I flipped her 90° she would literally hit the ground running.

She takes after her father in being a committed speed-monster. We recently acquired a bike trailer and she’s pretty uninspired by my slogging up slopes. But she chortles all the way downhill as we career around corners, jouncing over rocks and pinecones.

August 2014

August 2014

We were anxious about Finn’s involuntary promotion to ‘Big Brother’ but he is wonderful: hugely affectionate – although perhaps a little too solicitous about the temperature of Saoirse’s head and whether it needs to be wrapped in a blanket. And occasionally his expression of love can be a touch too energetic – or ‘violent’ to the untrained eye.

“Finn. Why is Saoirse crying?”

“I bopp’d her onna da head.”

“Well, um. Please don’t bop her on the head.”

“<nodding emphatically> YES! Ok, Mum.”

March 2014 - Saoirse looks understandably dubious trying to work out whether this is a kiss or headbutt

March 2014 – Saoirse looks understandably dubious trying to work out whether this is a kiss or headbutt

But I have no fear for Saoirse. What she lacks in bodily mass and dexterity, she compensates in guile and treachery. She likes nothing more than getting Finn into trouble: waiting until he unwittingly stumbles into an incriminating position before shrieking as if he’s torturing her.

I always know when Finn’s done it because he runs away; otherwise, he just stands there surrounded by planted evidence looking guilty.

September 2014 - mischief on her mind

September 2014 – mischief on her mind

Saoirse is magnificent and evidently in no way takes after me at all. She is entirely her own crazy little diamond; and she dazzles.

And we are all ensorcelled

More Bob

Me> Bob the Builder! Can we . . . wiggle it?

Finn> Yes we can!

Me> Bob the Builder! Can we TICKLE it?

Finn> Yes we can!

Me> Booob the Builder! Can we PICKLE IT?

Finn> No! Boy not like pickle! Boy not- boy- nonoNO! NOOOO! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Finn> *embarks on epic tantrum the might and fury of which will be used as an industry-standard benchmark for all future tantrums that include convulsions*

Me> *speechless*

Me> Sometimes you remind me so much of your father.

Parent Test

Q: BOB THE BUILDER!

a) I know a tax consultant called Bob . . . but Bob the Builder . . . no, doesn’t ring a bell.
b) CAN. WE. FIX IT? YES WE CAN!
c) What the- fuck off you fucking freak.
d) I need a drink.

You are a parent if you answered b), c) or d) – and congratulations! It’s a boy.

Meet Saoirse

Saoirse catches up on some sleep

Saoirse catches up on some sleep

Our baby girl, Saoirse, made her debut on the world stage on 21 November at 11:11 hrs. She is prodigiously talented and stunningly beautiful. “There’s only one beautiful baby in the world, and every mother has it,” commented a midwife down in Queen Mary. I’ve lodged an official complaint and will not rest until that bitch is FIRED. There’s simply no excuse for that level of prejudice and ignorance in a healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, in the photos Husband took in the recovery room, Saoirse is virtually obscured by the great flobberfest of funbags – which kind of defeats the purpose. On a related note: instead of capturing me tiredly stoic but luminous, confoundingly gorgeous despite being makeup free, I look so spectacularly haggard that it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that my husband hates me.

However, since that would be seriously bad timing, I’m focusing on how tricky it must be locating anyone’s best profile when they’re shiny and covered in vernix and re-adjusting to the re-internalization of their intestines.

Saoirse at one hour old

Saoirse at one hour old

Saoirse gazes at me as if we’ve met before and she’s trying to place my face. Thankfully, this unsettling effect is offset when she blows bubbles out the side of her mouth.

Ok, now, look: I never fully got over the shock of finding myself pregnant again – especially since, if there was any sex involved, well, I certainly don’t remember it. In many ways I felt more prepared for Finn’s arrival. Or perhaps that should be ‘ignorant’.

In contrast, my second pregnancy felt like one long, torturous, acid-reflux-fuelled panic attack. Leading up to the birth there was no limit to the number of things I stressed about, including: whether my kidneys would ever recover from the skilled and precise foetal pounding sustained over the previous five months; how Finn would cope with involuntary promotion to big brother; my rate of recovery after a caesarian; whether Andrew was lying about taking two weeks off work after the birth; and – a particularly horrifying thought – that my daughter might take after me. Oh, and also DEATH; not only mine, but anyone else perishing while I was on the operating table. Because, you know, PEOPLE DIE – and not only old ones.

But what concerned me most, throughout the pregnancy, was that I wouldn’t love my second child as much as Finn.

Finn checks what sound Saoirse’s nose makes

Finn checks what sound Saoirse’s nose makes

Friends told me this fear was fairly normal, but it CONSUMED me; I love Finn so viscerally it seemed impossible I’d have enough left over for a second child.

Of course, what turns out to be impossible is trying to quantify love. 

I am besotted with my daughter.

Saoirse and Mum

Saoirse and Mum

More options than you might think

Recently, many of my friends – mainly mothers from my playcentre and coffee groups – started being grievously afflicted with pregnancy again.

Of course I was thrilled for each of them, but I was surprised how hard I took it.

You see, I only ever wanted one child. Just one. I’m not greedy – unless we’re talking about profiteroles. And Finn is so much more than I ever wanted or dreamed of.

But I found myself assailed with regret that I’m so old and gnarly and limited of options; and nostalgia for Finn’s rapidly disappearing babyhood. It feels like just days ago a minutes-old miniature human was laid across my chest WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WAS 18 MONTHS HAS THERE BEEN SOME CATACLYSMIC RUPTURE IN THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM?

But worst was the terrible, crushing grief that I would never again look into the eyes of my child for the first time, or have my newborn nestle into the crook of my neck, or nurse a baby in the still, enchanted hours when the rest of the world is asleep.

Husband finally noticed the inexplicable weeping – or the notable build-up of soggy tissues. “We could always try for another,” he suggested helplessly.

And perhaps if I were a decade younger and hadn’t been clinically infertile for most of those years, the conversation might have lasted longer than a croissant and cup of coffee.

I didn’t feel ‘trying for another’ was amongst my/our limited options.

Instead, I focused on the positives of having an only child – the freedom; never having to arbitrate arguments over who gets to sit in the passenger seat of the car – which was pretty effective. Also, I mercilessly tormented my pregnant friends about how their lives were effectively over.

So in May, when I found out I was with child, it was – to apply my gift for understatement – rather literally a shock to the system.

I hadn’t been feeling well: exhaustion and an inspecific nausea that came and never really went. ‘It feels almost like . . . morning sickness,’ I remarked to Her Goatiness, quickly appending ‘HAHAHA!’ to emphasize how outrageous the suggestion was.

If nothing else, I should have instantly recognized my pathological aversion to caffeine, since the only time that happened before was when pregnant with Finn. Yet it was only weeks later, when I checked my diary, that I considered gestation as a possible cause.

I felt entirely foolish buying a pregnancy test kit, and didn’t mention it to Andrew because, I mean, really. The whole notion was just so PREPOSTEROUS. I recalled reading a magazine once – probably Women’s Weekly – with an article titled: ‘I thought I was pregnant, but it turned out to be a uterine tumour!’, so I figured that was much more likely.

When two lines appeared on the pregnancy test stick, I had to revert to the instructions several times. Because no matter how many times I reread the sentence, ‘Double lines are an indication of pregnancy’, it still didn’t make any sense.

When it finally did, I toppled off the toilet seat. (Gave my head a nasty bang off the corner of the bath.)

Well I had to tell SOMEONE and figured it should probably be Andrew and since he was on a business trip, I Skyped him.

Me> I’ve got news. You should sit.

Andrew (warily but not half wary enough)> Oh yes?

Me> I want to show you something.

Andrew> Um . . . what . . . IS that?

Me> It’s a pregnancy test stick.

Andrew> Ok. Why are you showing it to me?

Me> Because it’s positive.

Andrew> Oh.

Andrew> Whose is it?

Me> Whose do you THINK? It’s MINE! I’m hardly going to be sitting in our living room holding someone else’s wee-soaked stick, am I?

Andrew> Wow.

Andrew> Woah.

Andrew> Hey, congratulations!

I made a little girl cry but that three-year-old was so totally asking for it

Over time, I’ve learned how to successfully navigate the treacherous doldrums of the social milieu.

Drunken relatives, flashers, pukers, puking flashers, men with sinister moustaches, people who address me in pidgin Leprechaun: I’ve stared down them all and emerged from each encounter with – variously – enhanced awareness, self-restraint and/or lexicon of expletives.

Then I had a baby and was introduced to a whole new, entirely foreign social protocol.

Basically the problem is: parents.

Or more specifically that, as a parent, you are directly and fully responsible for an irrational, arbitrary, vicious, Hulk-smash werebeast in miniature.*

7/6/13 - Going mountain biking

7/6/13 – Going mountain biking

I mean: what do you do when someone’s child gouges another’s eye out with a sawn-off spoon? Or reverses repeatedly over some baby’s head in a tonka-truck? Or dismembers a teddy bear with a chainsaw?

I can handle the situation when Finn is the aggressor. What do you mean, HOW? I – ah – right. Yes – well – er – the key – I think – is anticipation and prevention. On the occasions Finn slips past my vigilant defence and robs some kid’s toy with a rugby-style high-tackle, I – ah – assess the severity of the transgression allied with the degree of damage to person and/or property. After separating the children and confiscating unlawfully relocated possessions and stanching any blood, I apologise profusely to the associated parent in between expressing how terribly embarrassed I am and I SWEAR HE TAKES AFTER HIS FATHER.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

And as long as Finn’s still breathing, I’m ok when he’s attacked by someone’s child and his/her parent swoops in to apologise profusely and express how terribly embarrassed they are and I SWEAR THEY TAKE AFTER THEIR FATHER. I mean, these things happen. Kids will be kids. Life is full of hard knocks.

But I’ve been – let’s say – taken aback by the number of parents who appear not to notice their lovable little scamps staging a violent coup in the north annex of the playcentre. (I’ve noticed the lack of interest appears closely correlated to their number of progeny.)

Under such circumstances, I’m not sure what acceptable procedure is. I’m particularly uncomfortable disciplining someone else’s child, allied with a primal terror of offending people. But where is the line between my cultural heritage and my duty of care towards Finn? And what message do I give him by standing by and letting him getting hurt? And how much am I being over-protective as a first-time mother? After all, the majority of other children are still in possession of most of their limbs and they can always be sewn back on . . . so perhaps I’m being melodramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time, you might agree.

The other day, I took Finn to a playcentre for children ranging from newborn to age seven or eight. There are two distinct play areas: a room with a playpen for the babies and an adjoining gym with slides and trampolines and cars for the older kids.

Finn has been able to blast his way out of any industrial-strength playpen for several months now, so although he’s a little too small for the gym that’s where he spends most of his time.

When we arrived, a three-year old girl took an interest in Finn – perhaps because he was precisely 50% of her body mass. If Finn had a toy, Katy wanted it. Then she started pushing him.

The third time she did so – with no evidence of any supervision or parental intervention – I crouched down in front of her and said, ‘Ah, now. Would you mind awfully – er – not doing that please? It’s not – um – very nice. Ok? Good girl.’

The look she gave me was so chillingly disdainful I actually felt a piece of my soul shrivel and die. Then, while I peeled my weeping son off the floor, she sauntered off to temporarily terrorise some other child.

Everyone was standing around gathering up coats and bags when I noticed Katy stalking Finn again. Unfortunately, it was too late to alter the course of fate. Thrusting both her hands squarely in his chest, she hurled him into a chair.

I was standing slightly behind her out of her line of vision, so I suppose from her perspective it was something of an ambush when I pounced on her. However, I was gentle but firm. In other words, I stuck my face in hers and barked, ‘NO! PLAY NICELY! NO PUSHING OTHER CHILDREN!’

Look, at least I didn’t call her nasty names.

As she stared tremulously into my slightly bulging eyes, her shocked face quailed and her little bottom lip quivered. Then she burst into noisy tears.

And it was like a stack of dominoes, detonating an explosive chain reaction of wailing. Finn’s friend** Max was so overcome with misery he flung himself on the floor and sobbed inconsolably.

Imagine your worst visualization of Hell, only about ten times noisier.

Next time I’ll ensure there are no witnesses.

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

* Before you ask: not only do I include Finn in the assessment above, he was in fact my primary case-study in formulating and refining this theory (I’m in NO POSITION to discriminate here).

** I love his mother and Max doesn’t routinely fire Finn into furniture, so at this stage that’s a BFF as far as I’m concerned.

With extra webbing

Me: I’m here to sign my son up for swimming classes.

Receptionist: What’s his name?

Me: Finn Tomes.

Receptionist: And . . . which classes has he completed?

Me: Jellyfish and Frogs.

Receptionist: Right. Let me just check whether he’s due to graduate to Penguins.

(She goes off to mutter at someone and returns.)

Receptionist: We’ll put him back in Frogs this term-

Me: EXCUSE ME?

Receptionist: We’ll put him back-

Me: Oh, I HEARD YOU. Look. I don’t mean to be some pushy parent; but my son is QUITE CLEARLY a PENGUIN.

Receptionist: Oh.

Me: Yes.

Me: He’s been swimming all summer*- he’s half-baby half-fish. Like some sort of baby-fish mutant hybrid. With extra webbing.

Receptionist: Um. We can only go on what the instructor says-

Me: Well, on the assessment form from his last class, he scored top marks on everything except monkey-monkey supported and kicking in a supine position – so I don’t know what HER problem is.

Me: I feel you’re holding him back.

Receptionist: I’ll just- maybe- would you like to speak to the manager?

Me: I should think so. *SNIFF!*

(After 15 minutes arguing compellingly and evidently persuasively about Finn’s potential for long-distance swimming or at least flotation):

Manager: We have a free slot in the Tuesday Penguin class-

Me: That’ll do.

Manager: How do you spell Finn? F- I- N- N-

Me: Wait- wait- sorry. Do you- do you really think Finn should re-swim the Frog class?

Manager: Well, he’s still very young-

Me: I’m worried maybe I’m pushing him too far too fast.

Manager: (speechless)

Me: I’m conflicted about the type of parenting methodology I should adopt.

Me: Perhaps he’d better go back in the Frogs.

 
* I threw him into a wave once or twice

Finn gets to grips with water

Finn gets to grips with water

How to apply effective pointy finger

I hope everyone is looking forward to a surpassingly excellent Christmas and brewing up an extra-strong cup of kindness for welcoming in the new year.

Wait- one moment please- I’m getting some breaking news from my online feed. Oh. It appears I’m a little belated. Seriously? Is it 2013 already? Are you SURE? Doesn’t feel like it. Never mind; at least I can throw out my extra-strong cup of kindness, which smells like composted grass.

If you didn’t get a Christmas card from us, it’s because the dog ate it. Also, my new android phone is obviously too high-tech for postal addresses, since it dumped them all when I imported my contacts.

Better get on with compiling new years resolutions. Starting with:

1. Better excuses.

So, how is everyone? Sorry it’s been ages since my last update-

2. Blog more frequently.

But in my defense-

3. Less excuses; quality not quantity. Refer to resolution (1).

-after hangin’ with John Key, it’s hard to write a sequel.

4. Meet a(nother) national treasure e.g. The Topp Twins.

(Although should we ever bump into the yodeling lesbian twins specializing in comical country music, I might never blog again because I’d know such an experience could never be surpassed. Maybe I should aim to meet Dave Dobbyn – or simply stick to three resolutions. That’s plenty.)

We have enjoyed the most amazing, exhilarating, thrilling year and I’m quite exhausted – but I can’t wait to see what treats 2013 has lined up for us.

Our little boy turned one last week and it’s difficult to recall what our lives were like before him.

I love his squidgy baby feet

I love his squidgy baby feet

 

29/12 Intrepid explorer

29/12 Intrepid explorer

Watching him grow is a remarkable experience. In the space of only six months, he has progressed from lying on the floor punching himself in the face to- well, mainly punching me in the face, instead- but also: rolling, crawling, standing and chortling – especially when swinging in the playground.

Finn swings

4/12 Finn swings

He never stays still and changing his nappy is a writhing, squirming, flailing conflagration of legs and hands and bottom.

Unfortunately, the way he expresses love can be somewhat violent. At the moment, our family catch-phrases include, ‘No biting, just kissing’ and ‘Use your gentleness for good not evil’. Also: ‘GAH NOT THE GLASSES!’

Finn now puts his arms around my neck and plays with my hair while snuggling – which is lovely until he concludes cuddles by sinking his teeth (all two of them) into my shoulder.

I had no idea how babies got around to speaking, but subconsciously I rather expected Finn to turn around one day and say, “While you’re at the fridge, Old Girl, would you mind passing the Roquefort?” Months ago, his adoring grandmother claimed Finn had an extensive lexicon, but it’s only been relatively recently he credibly says ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘dog’ and ‘uh-oh’.

He’s a sociable little fella, ready with a smile and pointy finger for everyone. A keen and talented grocery shopper, Finn flirts shamelessly with the check-out assistants.

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

He adores his father and practically leaps out of my arms to get to Andrew to confide how I beat and starve him.

However, it’s comforting that I’m still his favourite person upon whom to wipe his nose.

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

It is such a privilege to love him. Finn is a funny, joyful, generous little boy and caring for him is a gift. I still can’t quite believe how fortunate we are to be able to share his life.

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

Filthy spirit

Making mischief

When Finn was 3 months old, I enrolled us in SPACE: a playgroup recommended by Angela.

You know? Angela. Lovely woman. I regret our friendship was so fleeting. It started auspiciously enough, when I bought some cloth nappies from her at the Oamaru Opera House. Unfortunately the second time we met – at the inaugural meeting of the Book Club – I hugged her inappropriately. My excuse – actually, I have two – were: 1) pregnancy hormones; and ALSO 2) she looks cuddlesome.

Angela never invited me to any subsequent Book Club meetings – which was actually fine by me because even still I’m vaguely traumatized by Monique’s recounting how she explained menstruation to her five year old son. Shortly after Finn’s birth, Angela visited the house with some lemon cake and we conversed awkwardly. I couldn’t stop thinking about hugging her, and I could tell the poor woman was terrified I might fling myself on her at any moment for snuggle time.

I never heard from Angela again.

I still miss her.

Anyway, playgroup. Around the fourth session, I discovered SPACE starts at 1:00pm, not 1:30pm. Of course I’d noticed Finn and I were the last to arrive, but had assumed the other mothers were unusually – in fact, retroactively – punctual.

Finn and I had been missing the singing. SPACE kicks off with ‘The Welcome Song’ in Maori. I’m convinced the words change every week; after the first line, ‘Te aro ho(?)/ha(?)’, it’s an organic jumble of ‘wha’, ‘ka’, ‘pa’ and ‘po’ noises.

The rest of the songs – in English – generally involve actions. I never realized how difficult it is to simultaneously sing and mime. In particular, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ makes me almost appreciate Justin Bieber. (I have no idea why Incy Wincy couldn’t have been a possum – or a seal. I can do a wicked seal impression.)

Singing is followed by a ‘thought for the day’, which generally places a sinister emphasis on ‘fun’ and ‘play’. For example: ‘Your baby will remember having fun with you, not whether the house was tidy’.

Quite apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure Finn will remember neither for quite some time; but, where is a child supposed to learn a work ethic? The sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth derived from welding, or preparing tasty snacks for his mother?

Here’s another: ‘the most precious gift you can give your child is time.’

Well, there are 86,400 precious gifts in any given day, and frankly I don’t want to spoil him. Or, you know, bore the shit out of him.

Then we have activities. At first, these were about refining our motor skills, e.g. making mobiles out of ice-cream containers while trying not to drop the babies or stab them with scissors.

Now our crotchfruit are a little older, activity time appears to be geared towards generating the greatest mess possible. Because ‘messy play is important’ according to Ailsa with no supporting rationale.

I try to enter into the filthy spirit of it all, but honestly: every time one of the coordinators says, ‘Yay! Next week painting!’ or, ‘Slime! Yay!’, my heart sinks. It was only when pregnant that I noticed how many people interject ‘yay!’ with the same enthusiasm I apply to swearing; I presumed it was a symptom of morning sickness and would wear off, but if anything it’s getting worse.

Three weeks ago they brought out the pits.

“A few babies try to eat the sand,” said Ailsa.

“That’ll be Finn,” I said, grimly. “If he poos rocks, I’m holding SPACE directly responsible.”

Sure enough, Finn munched through half the sand pit. Otherwise everything was fine – until Ailsa added water, when it turned into the sort of footage you see on the evening news when a landslide has taken out an entire city e.g. Toronto.

Then Ailsa built a sand ‘volcano’, adding vinegar to red food-colouring and baking soda so that it frothed and bubbled over. Swept away in a paroxysm of joy, Finn flung himself on the volcano and licked it.

The week after, the coordinators made up vats of foam (Lux soap flakes whisked with warm water and some food-colouring) and slime (cornflour mixed with water and the playgroup staple: food-colouring). For half an hour, I held Finn literally at arm’s length, between my index finger and thumb.

The coordinators had supplied a bucket of warm water for the purpose of washing the babies’ hands. Well. I had to strip Finn down to his nappy and basically bathe him in the bucket. I even washed his hair, which was covered in pink goo.

Of course Finn loved it. But to put that in perspective, he also loves when I click in his ear – or shake my head. That’s the latest thing; it’s as if my purpose on this planet is to say ‘no’ for Finn’s exclusive entertainment. I should enjoy it before he realizes I say ‘no’ to RUIN HIS LIFE.

Thing is: Finn is a boy. There are already holes in the toes of his socks and muddy fingerprints on all my clothes. Before too long, it’ll be skidmarks on the lintels and slugs, snails and tails in my crockery. What I’m saying is: it’s innate. He hardly needs my endorsement to be messy – never mind ENCOURAGEMENT.

Sharing the drool: You’re welcome, Mama

Rhubarb: deadly

Husband> How do you feel about your dog?

Me> Who- Jed?

Me> Well I- I love him.

Me> He’s my dog.

Husband> What if he did something?

Me> Look, a dog’s a dog. Every now and then he’s got to express his furry inner nature – you know, unleash the wolf . You can’t blame him for that.

Husband> I’m glad you feel that way.

Me> Huh really? Why?

Husband> He lay on your rhubarb.

Me> HE DID WHAT?

Husband> In fact, he didn’t just lie on it. He rolled around in it, wriggled a bit. Looked to be having a whale of a time.

Me> I put that rhubarb in last summer- it doesn’t produce for a whole year- I’ve weeded it, nurtured it-

Husband> Yeah, it’s a bit flat. And see, this leaf here is munched. Also that one.

Me: That <multiple expletives deleted> <and some more> mongrel!

Husband: What happened to ‘a dog’s a dog’?

Me: I’ll make a <expletive deleted> rug out of his pelt.

And I’m going to embroider it:

In loving memory of Jed
Beloved family pet
Lay on rhubarb
RIP

Doctors have difficulty finding love

So, immunization.

Before Finn was born, Andrew and I discussed our respective views on vaccines.

Years ago, a friend lent me some literature on immunization. It read like an issue of Conspiracy Theory Quarterly, its message roughly along the lines of OMG YOUR DOCTOR IS TRYING TO MURDER YOUR BABY!!! VACCINES ARE INSTRUMENTS OF EVIL WIELDED BY GOVERNMENT AND BIG PHARMA FOR THE PURPOSES OF POPULATION CONTROL!!! AND AUTISM!!! FORMALDEHYDE!!! SUPER DISEASES!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! TERRIFYING STATISTICS WITH LITTLE TO NO CONTEXT!!!

Then we have Responsible Parents, supported by the government and healthcare profession, which makes out that anyone questioning vaccination is an ignorant hippie selfishly benefitting from ‘herd immunity’ whilst simultaneously subverting it.

No doubt the truth lies somewhere on the scale between both extremes.

Previously, if I’d ever fallen off the fence due to a drunken stupor brought about by intimate knowledge of frozen margharita, I would have ended up on the side of YOUR PAEDIATRICIAN IS A KILLER (single exclamation point only).

Mainly because the headline features more dramatic appeal than, say: ‘Vaccines responsible for control of infectious disease’. But also, I have a viral distrust of the medical profession after 10 years’ involuntary exposure to the doctors of Dubai – a position only entrenched by Finn’s and my current doctor’s dynamic complacency (see below).

I am immune to most standard antibiotics – but not Rubella, despite being vaccinated at the age of 12 (the angry mark on my upper left arm still flares up in sunlight). The one time I got the flu vaccine, I spent the following four months hacking, snorting and gargling snot.

But then Finn came along and pushed me off the fence and, much to my surprise, I found myself on the other side.

Mainly because of this:

Finn would not exist without the miracle of modern medicine and science. And the measures we took to have him required unconditional faith in the healthcare professionals involved.

So it seems a bit hypocritical to say, ‘Hey, thanks for making our dreams a reality and changing our lives utterly, although we’re not so gripped by the sleepless nights – eh, look, forget I said that; it’s a small thing, never mind – what’s that? Oh yes, right. Here’s the thing. We don’t trust you to keep him well.’

In any case, if Finn ever contracted measles or polio or whooping cough, we would be straight up in the grille of the medical profession anyway.

But doctors, they make it so difficult to love them.

Shortly after we got home, we took Finn for his five-month vaccine. Three days later he fell ill.

His symptoms were inspecific: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, pronounced grumpiness (which may simply be his father’s genes gaining ascendency), and unresponsive to the lady on her horse going nim nim nim.

Normally when he wakes up from a nap, he is overjoyed to see me; all, ‘WOW, it’s YOU! HURRAY! This is TOTALLY AWESOME! Aren’t I unbelievably cute? I KNOW! Pick me up pick me up pick me up! HEY, will you do that dancy thing down the stairs? AW, YAY! I JUST NEVER KNEW LIFE WOULD BE THIS MIND-BLOWING!’

For a full week he wouldn’t even reach out to be picked up, but just lay there staring at me accusingly with red-rimmed eyes before crying. And crying and crying. Then breaking my heart and pulverizing it into a fine paste with his tears.

See what I mean?

Eventually I was concerned enough to bring him back to the clinic. The doctor failed to appreciate how critical the situation was, despite Finn sitting quietly on my lap showing no inclination to rip out the doctor’s nose hair by the roots, or kick his kidneys to kingdom come.

The doctor listened to Finn’s chest, palpated his abdomen, checked his ears. He found nothing apart from a lump of earwax the size of a peanut, which rolled onto his desk and spun gently before coming to rest.

“Any coughing?”

“No.”

“Rash?”

“No.”

“How are his testicles?”

“His . . . bollocks?”

“Testicles. Yes.”

“I, er- I suppose they’re round and . . . squishy . . . I don’t know! I’m not an expert on balls.”

“He probably has a mild viral infection,” murmured the doctor, making notes on his laptop. I saw him write ‘testicles normal’, which I felt was sloppy if not downright negligent. I mean, after explaining my lack of expertise in the area of testes, I wouldn’t have thought he’d just take my word for it.

“A viral infection?” I said. “Where . . . I mean, how would he have . . . ?”

“Oh, babies can pick them up anywhere,” he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that he’d injected several nasty strains into my son four days previously. “Give him Paracetamol. Make sure he gets lots of fluid.”

“He has a high temperature,” I said, stubbornly ignoring the dismissal.

“Temperature?” said the doctor, as if this were an abstract and rather random concept. “Oh. I didn’t . . . I suppose I should probably take his temperature.”

“YA THINK?”

When the doctor withdrew his thermometer from Finn’s ear, it read 39 degrees.

“Odd,” he said, frowning. “He doesn’t feel warm.”

“Why don’t you try the other ear? It might be better.”

AND HE DID.

Not that it made any difference.

“So when should I start panicking about him?” I asked.

“Oh, bring him back if you get worried,” he said vaguely.

I’m pretty sure Finn’s sickness was a reaction to his DTaP-IPV-Hep B/Hib immunization. In fact, I’m hyper-positive. It’d be nice to think that after we left his surgery, the doctor reported Finn’s response to the NZ Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring, but it’s more likely he practiced incorporating a squiggle into his signature instead.

When I got home, I did a bit of research on the Internet – which I feel is AT LEAST AS reliable as my doctor – and adverse reactions to vaccinations seem pretty normal. Several people reported that their older infants, who had started sounding words, stopped speaking after being innoculated.

Apart from OMG Finn might be STRUCK PROFOUNDLY DUMB! the Internet didn’t yield any useful advise so I kept Finn hydrated and dosed him with Paracetamol.

After about a week his fever finally broke and thankfully he’s now back to normal.

Although he’s still not talking.

Hair as handkerchief

Hindsight strongly suggests I should have exercised a heavier hand with the gin. Andrew and I have shoveled a path through most of the snot, but our mini-man has it now and we’re not sure whether his motor skills are developed enough to wield a shovel. Poor little fella has a bright red, runny nose and streaming eyes in a shiny face.

As ever, he is remarkably tolerant – and at least it has given him scope to perfect his latest trick which is wiping his nose on my hair.

He also likes to open his mouth wide, clamp gums to my shoulder and distribe drool and snot down my back. He’s asleep now, passed out in a Calpol stupor.

Charm erosion

So we’re back in NZ sane and sound although still slightly dulled after the flight.

Our funny little boy about ten hours into the flight. Having exhausted all other options including steering his father around several laps of the cabin, he spread out on the floor for the better part of an hour

The Emirates check-in assistant seated us at opposite ends of the airplane in protest at our checking in at the Skywards Silver counter – a maneuver I’ve successfully executed since being downgraded to a blue card holder about six years ago. My charm previously papered over this deficit, but has evidently eroded sharply since I turned 40. Still, with Finn lashed to my front flying a purple and green Emirates bib, I thought my net charm had at least tripled.
 
The woman obviously had a swinging brick for a heart, since her response to Finn blowing bubbles at her – admittedly delivered with droplets of spit – was to grow increasingly obnoxious. No, she couldn’t seat us any closer since the flight was full.
 
When she produced a body-bag I realized the situation had got completely out of control. However, she wasn’t planning to glare one or all of us to death; instead, she insisted we use it to wrap Finn’s carseat. Although the carseat was already swaddled in a binliner and about three kilometers of packing tape, she said it was inadequately packed and the baggage handlers ‘would not know what to do with it’.
 
Since the carseat had travelled halfway around the world in its binliner without incident, I can only conclude the Emirates UAE baggage handlers are as moronic as our check-in attendant.
 
Thankfully I found another Emirates staff member who proved more susceptible to Finn’s magic. After some minutes on the phone, she managed to seat us in the same row along the bulkhead.

Once aboard, the woman next to me agreed to swap seats with Andrew. I’m not sure whether she was more moved by my partnerless plight or Finn farting earnestly in my arms. No matter. Same result.
 
Ideally Finn would sleep the entire flight, but unfortunately airplanes seem to invigorate him. He is passionately anti-bassinet, probably because it doesn’t allow enough room for him and his bounteous chi. He slept only four hours, and that on top of me as I sat stiffly immobile with a dead arm. When awake, he was intensely sociable. Yet although I winced at every squirk he made, several disembarking passengers remarked how good he was.

Also known as Auntie Niamh

When I was home, I was thrilled to spend some time with my niece, Ceara. She’s nine years old and such a wonderful little girl.

She gave me a book of stories compiled by her class, and Ceara’s entry is this:-

THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN MY LIFE

The most important person in my life is my Aunt Niamh. She lives in New Zealand and she works as a story writer. Her dog is called Jed. Jed is trained. He does the washing up.

When my Aunt comes to visit, she always brings me a present, like when she brought me a skateboard. I had always wanted one. When it was my birthday she sent me a box full of jewellery. I made a necklace for her with a matching bracelet. She also sent me 10 pictures of Jed doing the dishes, it was really funny!

My Aunt Niamh is very kind and caring. She will be coming to visit soon. I think she’s coming in three weeks. I wish she was living closer. We would skype her sometimes. I hope someday I will be a writer like her.

Also:-

Likeness: striking

This is totally shameful. I mean: I never write; I think I’ve Skyped her twice; the last birthday present I sent her was six months late; and I only brought her to MacDonald’s once and it was a crappy drive-through. If I’m the most important person in her life, it’s pretty grim.

Ceara came to the parents’ house in Kenmare for a weekend, and I drove to Cork to collect her. When I arrived the children had been released and were swarming around the playground. I accosted an adult and asked if she knew where I would find Ceara.

I knew she was a teacher because she said, “And you are . . . ?”

“I’m her aunt.”

“You’re not- are you Auntie Niamh?” she asked, her eyes widening.

“Um, yes,” I said, shifting Finn to my other hip.

“Auntie Niamh!” she shrieked. “Oh my goodness! Auntie Niamh! She talks about you all the time!”

She went to find Ceara and within seconds Finn and I were surrounded by children.

“It’s Auntie Niamh,” whispered one to another. “Ceara’s Auntie Niamh!”

“Do you have a dog called Ned?” one asked me.

“I have a dog called Jed. Will that do?”

From the far side of the yard I heard the Chinese whisper, ‘She has an iguana called Fred!’

“Does he do dishes?” asked another slyly.

“Yes,” I said definitively. “But I have to bribe him with dog biscuits.”

Ceara’s quite small for her age and it was a while before I noticed her hovering uncertainly at the edge of the throng, by now ten deep. After the way she talked me up, I thought I’d better make our reunion glorious.

“Ceara!” I cried, swatting kids out of the way. I considered lifting her off her feet and swinging her around, but I’d have dropped either her or Finn. In any case, I felt I’d already overdone it by roaring, ‘IT’S YOUR AUNTIE NIAMH HURRAY!’

Instead I grabbed her in a bearhug and cried, “Great to see you! Are you ready for a fully awesome road trip?”

“Can we have MacDonald’s?” asked Ceara, recognizing an opportunity when it bit her on the ear. Smart girl.

“We’ll stop at every single MacDonald’s on the way,” I promised.

(I was pretty safe; there’s only the one on the route from Ceara’s school to Kenmare: the crappy drive-through.)

We drove off in a blaze of glory with children lined up along the school fence waving and shouting, ‘Bye Ceara! Bye Auntie Niamh!’

I’ve resolved to make more of an effort with my niece.

Still hmm

Mum: I’ve taken the frying pan off the ring. It was very hot.

Me: Yes. Er. Can you put it back, please? It’s supposed to be hot before the fish goes on.

Mum: Really?

Me: Yes.

Mum: That hot?

Me: Yes.

Later-

Mum: The salmon’s burning.

Me: No, it’s not.

Mum: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

Mum: Did you turn it over?

Me: Yes.

Mum: When?

Me: Two minutes ago, when you were riffling through the compost for some reason I didn’t interrogate you mercilessly about for only minutes although it felt like hours.

Later still-

Mum: That salmon doesn’t look done.

Me: Oh, but it is.

Mum: It’s still pink inside.

Me: It’ll continue cooking for the next minute or so, even with the heat turned off.

Mum: I don’t think it’s done.

Me: Because it doesn’t look like a lump of coal? IT’S DONE.

Mum: Hmm.

Me: What?

Mum: Nothing.

Mum: HMM.

Vicious kisses

Finn has changed so much in the three weeks since we arrived. He has more hair – I think it’s the result of the moist Irish air. He now rolls onto his stomach, sometimes with such momentum he tumbles right over onto his back again.

We’ve been playing games such as The Huntsman goes gallop-agallop-agallop and DOWN into the ditch! and One, Two, Three <throw him into the air>. He anticipates the payoff and starts chortling as it approaches.

Sometimes he opens his mouth wide and basically gums you in the face, which I believe is his (extremely slobbery yet somehow equally charming) version of kissing.

Two weeks ago he discovered his feet and has been trying to pull his toes off – thankfully unsuccessfully so far. Yesterday he discovered his willy and, um, as above.

His hand-eye coordination has improved immeasurably, although not his instinct for self-preservation: he will persist in attempting to grab my loaded mug of coffee off the table.

In no way a euphamism for substance abuse

The parents have had Finn and I on a grueling schedule of public appearances, performances and photo ops. We’ve met the bowling club, the women’s group, four of the neighbours, the new rector, his wife, Edel, Áine, Vincent, Dolly, and Finn’s Uncle Eoin.

Who the hell are YOU?

Mum occasionally tucks Finn under her arm and takes him off visiting.

We are quite exhausted – and I mean that literally rather than a euphemism for checking into rehab for substance abuse.

Last week, Mum said, “Shall I invite Fiona and Pat around for afternoon tea tomorrow?”

“Oh, ah, sure,” I replied. “Although I was kind of looking forward to having a free day-”

“Oh, you won’t have to do a thing,” said Mum, “apart from turn up. You and the baby. Hmm. Should I ask Angela and Mark?”

“Who?”

“Angela and Mark. Sure, I’ll give them a ring. They might not be able to come.”

As it turned out Angela and Mark were delighted to attend – along with the fourteen other people my mother invited.

I’ve been so proud of my little boy who has had literally tens of people all up in his grille and just beams good-naturedly as he’s passed around, jostled and jigged and cuddled. He has utterly charmed everyone he’s met.

Definition: placid

My nephew Balian – 10 days younger than Finn – basically sleeps up to 24 hours a day.

I said to Mum: “I thought Finn was placid, but not after meeting Balian.”

Mum said, “Niamh. I would never describe your child as placid.”

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