Megalomaniacal Despot and Cowering Serf

When Lu was a baby, Hermione (aged 2) pulled her off the couch. Feet first. For the first couple of years, in fact, she didn’t miss any opportunity to hurt the tiny interloper who seemed to have snatched her rightful place at the centre of Mummy’s universe. When I asked her why she was so mean to Lu she said, (in a tone which made it clear that I must be stupid), ‘Because I Don’t.Like.Her’.

Oh.  Right.

The girls’ relationship operates largely like a dictatorship with Hermione in the role of Megalomaniacal Despot, and Lu as Cowering Serf. They have very different personalities. They play together quite well now, but always on Hermione’s terms. I fear that sometimes Hermione is not so much ‘playing’ with Lu, as holding Lu hostage. I think Lu needs to go on some sort of assertiveness course.

Lu’s shortfall in aggression, however, is more than compensated for by her talent for devious manipulation. She sussed out early that every time she starts crying, I scream: ‘Hermione! What are you doing to Lu?!’ She often gets even by lying ‘Hermione hit me!’ whenever she feels like getting her sister in trouble. She’s obviously attempting to pay her back for all those early years of oppression.

My own relationship with Hermione operates mostly like a western democracy, where I am the elected Government and she is the Opposition. She opposes, on principle, any legislation I attempt to enact, misses no opportunity to express a vote of no confidence in my leadership, and has attempted to stage several coup d’etats in the past few years.

Al disagrees but I am quietly confident that Hermione is getting the whole teenage rebellion thing out of the way early (she’s 9) – I feel that she’s going to be a model child by the time she turns 13.  Although if I follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion … well, let’s just hope that Lu simply skips the whole teenage rebellion thing. (Hey, I did – right, Mum?)

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The thing about children

‘How do you feel about being back at work?’, some friends asked me shortly after I’d returned to paid work after being a stay at home mum for more than six years.

‘Oh, a little sadness’, I replied, ‘tinged with joyful exhilaration’.

‘What are the advantages of paid employment over full-time motherhood?’ they enquired.

‘Well, let’s see’, I said, as I struggled to put into order the dozen or so points that immediately sprang to mind, ‘I get respect and appreciation from the people I work with – they think I’m good at my job; I think I’m good at my job; I enjoy my work; I can get things done without having to ask 16 times; I get to have uninterrupted phone calls and cups of coffee; my organisational skills actually do impose order upon chaos; there’s a starting time and a finishing time; I get paid; I can resign when I want a different job; and I can wear totally un-casual clothes including shoes that make a satisfying click’.

The thing about children – and humanity in general actually – is that I love them in theory, and am prepared to go to great lengths to improve their life and conditions but – as a person who values peace, order, rational conversation and being able to find my hairbrush, the scissors and sticky-tape when I want it – I find it much more difficult to deal with them in practice.  I’ve given up trying to understand the infantile mind.  I’m certain that I couldn’t possibly ever have been a child myself.  (It’s funny though, when I’m apart from my children, I seem to really miss them; I feel a sort of physical loss as if I’m missing a vital limb … or an unsightly wart).

Back in the corporate world, nothing much has changed apart from the work-force being a lot younger than I remember.  And you know you are looking older when people no longer look surprised when you tell them your age.  I found it hard to resist the urge to yell ‘What do you mean ‘Right’?  Aren’t you going to tell me that you’d never have guessed – that I look 10 years younger?!’

I currently work full-time hours (Al is very happy about the full-time salary) but I start early so that I can collect the girls from school 2 days a week.  Now that I’ve got a job I’ve started making plans to leave home as soon as possible.  Of course I’ll have to wait until the kids grow up, start working and move out themselves but there’s no harm in thinking about where I’d like to go and what I’d like to do next, is there?

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Toy Creep Fatigue

A large family of individually-named water-filled balloons has taken up residence in our bathroom.  (Living with young children means that at any one time there are at least three half-inflated balloons rolling around the floors like sad tumbleweeds in a Western movie).  Hermione informed me that some of them occasionally die of ‘Popalonika Disease’ – symptoms include one balloon becoming stuck to another Siamese-like when wet, then popping when pulled apart.

The rest of the house is under siege by ‘Toy Creep’ – the insidious spread of toys from designated toy areas to every surface in every room in the house.  Al and I are suffering from ‘Toy Creep Fatigue’ – a condition reached when you give up the fight (or worse – no longer even notice) and resign yourself to the fact that kids are genetically programmed to spread toys faster than parents can retrieve them.

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Sending My Children To Another Planet

One of the problems with becoming a parent is that you are no longer in control of your own life.  Forget about being the star of your own show, you are henceforth playing a Supporting Role Only in the lives of your children.  This can be a particularly unpleasant shock if, like me, you are (a) a Slightly Anal, Control-Freak Perfectionist and (b) an Older Parent who was hitherto used to pleasing herself for almost 20 adult years.

I thought that motherhood, like any other new undertaking, was something I could research and plan, and ultimately control.  [I’ll pause here for any parent readers to guffaw hysterically and finish wiping their eyes].

Yes, the reality turned out to be a little different.  During the first few years, my ‘new job’ involved working 14-15 hours a day, 7 days a week.  My client base was small but very demanding.  My job description ranged from … devising and supervising their daily schedules, organising travel itineraries and transportation, organising meals and working through lunch with at least one client … right down to blowing their noses and wiping their bottoms.  Like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, I felt that my own life only really existed when my mistresses were asleep.

I think ‘relentless’ is the word which best describes the time and energy demands of full-time mothering.  I tried to stay sane by spending as little time as possible at home.  Otherwise there was a danger that the kids and I would spend too much time screaming at each other, (and I’m ashamed to admit that I can scream louder than them).  By the time Al would get home – fresh from his 11 hour break at the office – brandishing a shiny, intact perspective, I would have mislaid mine somewhere back around lunch time.  I would be at the stage (wine bottle in hand) where I wanted my children to simply go somewhere else – like another suburb preferably … or perhaps another planet.

The fact that my family has emerged relatively unscathed (hopefully not too many years of counselling will be required) from that early childhood hell is due to Other Honest Mothers.  Through Mothers Group and Playgroup, I learned that I was not the only one feeling this way.

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The Wanky Head Massage

I love going to the hairdresser.  Any why wouldn’t I?  I get to spend 3 child-free hours catching up on celebrity gossip and chatting to my friendly trusted hairdresser, while being plied with wine, coffee and biscuits.

It takes time to train a hairdresser, but in return they receive my life-long loyalty.

Unless they leave me of course – always very distressing, akin to a divorce I imagine.  Is there anything worse than having to start over?  Having to endure the recruitment drive for a replacement?  Dismissing the types who think they’re An Artist, or the darlings who spend more time checking themselves out in the mirror than tending to your hair.  I once had a memorable encounter at an expensive city salon with a guy called Rupert, who told me that we had to stop talking now as he needed to concentrate on cutting.  I should have left then.

That was the same salon which required me to choose from an array of Essential Oils for a one minute pre-cut neck massage … which brings me to the Wanky Head Massage – which is now as ubiquitous as Party Bags at kids’ birthday parties (I’d like to have a word with the person who started that annoying little ritual too) – I’M THERE FOR A HAIRCUT, for goodness sake  – NOT TO HAVE MY CHAKRAS ALIGNED!  In my experience, approximately 1 in 20 hairdressers are capable of administering a pleasant head massage, (and none of them work at my hairdressers).  Unfortunately I’m the sort of person who endures the scary head massage rather than risk offending the masseur by requesting that we skip it.  (The same goes for the sticking their fingers into my ears through the towel to dry them, but let’s not even talk about that).

Thankfully, since I returned to paid work, my husband has given up snorting and rolling his eyes when he sees the credit card bill, and entreating me earnestly to try out his $15 Barber …

I’ve been with my current hairdresser for about 6 years.  She understands that just because I’m a harassed mum doesn’t mean I want to look like one, and I love her for that.

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For-profit vs. Non-profit Childcare

In my view, Providing Quality Childcare and Making A Profit are mutually exclusive aims.  I believe childcare should be seen as an essential service.  If you’re in business to make a profit then you are responsible firstly to your shareholders, and not to the children who are committed to your care.  It seems to me that most of the privatised childcare centres I’ve visited are staffed by 17 year olds on minimum wage (I’m not saying that a 17 year old cannot be an excellent carer, but making the point that a for-profit childcare centre seems to hire the cheapest labour), yet they charge parents the highest fees.  And the staff turnover is high, which is upsetting for the children.

By comparison, in my experience, the community-based not-for-profit childcare centres are staffed by an assortment of more mature people – often parents themselves – who seem to be happier in their jobs, and their fees are more reasonable.  I’d like to see more funding go to the not-for-profit childcare centres.

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Paid Parental Leave for Australia – at last!

Australia will FINALLY see the introduction of a Paid Parental Leave scheme from next January 2011.  I’m happy – even if the scheme ranks as one of the world’s worst!

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