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I have tried to write this post three times in the past six months. I’ve also tried to write it three different times this evening, each time getting frustrated and reverting back to the wine I am definitely not drinking out of a Buzz Lightyear glass and the popcorn I definitely did not steal from the Rocket’s stash of snacks. It seems like it should be simple, because really what I’m always trying to write when I strangle myself with a thousand words of nonsense is this stupidly obvious statement: I like friends. I never really expected that I would have a baby and that act alone would give me so many new friends that I feel like a YouTube video of someone happily being smothered by puppies, but there you are.

In school you make friends by fossicking out the most cheerfully compatible ones out of the classrooms you spend hours inside. After school, you go to work, and the dynamics can make things harder: you are no longer equals in a room, no longer students all muddling about trying to figure out why Pythagoras even bothered having a theorem when he could have spent his time much more constructively pashing behind the bike sheds. Instead, you are being bossed around, or perhaps trying to keep everyone in line, or too busy to even exchange pleasantries, or you just don’t click with anyone in your workplace. About seven years ago I went through a phase where I had a core group of friends that I adored and a partner who loved me, but I had this real visceral worry that I had reached the part of life where I wouldn’t make any new friends ever again. I thought maybe you hit a point in life where no new friendship experiences happened to you and you just never met anyone nice again unless you had already planned to go out with them for dinner. The world became very small. Eventually, in an uncharacteristic display of bravery, I decided to do something about it.

It started by going on the internet and joining a community of vegans and then hanging out with them. I know that anyone reading this who is not also of the tofu-eating persuasion has just panicked at the thought of this, imagining (as I probably used to) that we sat around gnashing our teeth about the other 99.97% of the world’s population and eating lettuce while looking pasty, but actually, it was just like hanging around with everyone else, except that they didn’t sigh dramatically and roll their eyes when you tried to figure out where to go for dinner. Reaching out for new friends altered something for me—this worry that there would be no one else vanished, and I started to be braver about making pals. A couple of years later I got a new job at a different bookshop, and the sheer amount of amazing new people I met still makes me grin when I drive to work (most days—I’m not that cherubic.) By the time I was pregnant, there were boundless plains of people who were giving me congratulatory hugs and high fives and trying really hard not to ask to touch my enormous belly (even though I didn’t mind.) These people were essentially limited to three groups where I shared a common interest: school buds, literary types, and people who used the word “facon” instead of “bacon” on Instagram.

Then I had a baby and my common interest became the same as billions of people in the world and millions in Melbourne alone. And, unexpectedly, my interests and the interests of those other millions of people do not always align. And—here’s the part I’ve always struggled to admit—I was worried about them. My world was full of lefty atheists who did collage on the weekends and smoked cigarillos at rooftop bars (not me, obviously—I have literally never smoked in my life and am incapable of finding a good bar on my own.) No one voted for Tony Abbott and they were fierce feminists who didn’t own property and who respected video games and comics and children’s books as art. It was a world I felt comfortable in, and I did not feel comfortable in those other worlds, worlds of religion and girls who wear princess dresses and toy swords.

Here is something I think that I just did not know: there are parents/guardians out there who are different from me, and they are amazing.

They own their own homes, and live in beautiful houses that are always clean, and have children with perfect clothes, and post-child bodies better than I ever thought my pre-child body was, and they believe in God and go to church, and they are much older or younger than me, and they buy pink for their daughters and blue for their sons, and they wear clothes I don’t like, and they don’t read books much, and they don’t know the difference between Marvel and DC, and they listen to Fox FM, and it does not matter. They are there to play with and lament to, they are there to ask and give advice, they are there to share jokes and snotty noses. And they are just among the most incredible people I have ever had the good fortune to have in my life, to the point where thinking about it right now has made it rain on my face.

It started with my mother’s group—I’ve mentioned my nerves before about meeting them, dressing up in clothes uncomfortable for my tired post-birth body just so they thought I was cool. I must have convinced them because we are still friends to this day, and we’re about to have a Christmas party this weekend together and I am super excited about it. These women were all successful, smart, funny, understanding and kind and they were all so different from me and each other that I almost thought we could be a sitcom. I don’t know where I’d be now without them, a sounding board for all things that fall apart when you have a baby. When the Rocket sputters, it’s usually them I call, because inevitably when something goes wrong, I am not the only one who’s gone through it. And when something goes right, it usually just has for them too.

When the Rocket was about nine months old we moved out of our cold and tiny cave into a temperature-controlled cave with bigger windows and another bedroom and the need for a zone 2 train ticket. Previously I’d lived within walking distance of two of my mother’s group pals, but otherwise I wasn’t too involved in my community—my neighbours liked us but not each other—and I didn’t really expect much. Then we took up Gymbaroo, and suddenly I had all these friends in my phone with the surname “Gymbaroo” because one thing you never know as a parent/guardian is other parent/guardian’s surnames. We had coffee after class and played in the park and went to each other’s parties and caught up in the park and went on train adventures together. Later, the Rocket started swimming lessons, and then we had to stay extra late so she could hang out with the new friends she and I made from the other classes, and then extra late to hang out with the friends we made from the classes after that, and then we had to come early as well to spend time with the friends we made who just came along for a splash every week earlier than our class. And I did not put their names in my phone because it is too awkward to exchange numbers while in your underpants in a change room, but I still look forward to seeing them every week. Despite the fact that this is a place where I can’t hide that I don’t like how I look behind billowing t-shirts, distracting accessories and blow-dried hair, these people are my friends too. Along with these activities, on an almost daily basis I would take the Rocket to get a babycino at the same cafe at our local strip of shops, and we made friends with the women who worked there, and some days I would go there just to see the faces of people who beamed when we walked in the door and didn’t even care about that time when the Rocket offered her drink to her bear and smashed the cup on the ground.

Today, I joined a secret neighbourhood facebook group, curated by a mother I met at the park about a week ago. We got along well straight away, as did our kids, flying around the park doing laps and yelling at each other about going on the swings. Like teenagers who’d just gone on a date, both the Rocket and I couldn’t stop talking about it when we got home; I could not believe that there were still new friends to be made out there in my neighbourhood. Recently we had a landlord scare and I thought I might have to move; I spent the night wailing about it in Teach’s arms, as if we would have to move to Albuquerque instead of three streets away. Unexpectedly, the community I have developed here has made me feel that I have finally moved into the right place, my family place. Within my block alone live three other families with both kids and parents I love; I never expected I would be so lucky that I could have friends over the back fence or who were free on Tuesdays like we were or who walked past our house with their kids who shout the Rocket’s name from our driveway so we can come outside and run in circles around the bird bath. I never thought there would be these people in my life, floods of them, and then new ones every day who live only one corner away and who I never even met until this week.

In accordance with my current mood, this is all beautiful and soft-focus; I know that there are jerks out there—I’ve met them, too, and scissored them out of my life—and that some people have so many experiences with jerks in a row that the safest thing to do is to stop meeting anyone, especially when there’s a kid involved. I wish I could say “just open up to meeting new people, it’ll be fine!” when no, it’s not, not always. I put myself out there and I lucked out. All I can say it that I hope you luck out too, kids or not, internet or not, nearby friendly cafe or not, local sports team or not. And if you ever need a fist bump, I’ve got my knuckles against the screen right now.

Pre-Rocket, I don’t think I would have given any thought to parks. If anything, I was probably a bit annoyed at them for taking up precious space that could be used to build a block of units that then I could buy for, say, $200,000. Instead, here were these ridiculous places with swings, and they weren’t vital to my pre-Rocket state so why don’t we just knock them all down? Anyway, this is why I am not in politics, and boy am I now grateful for parks. All the parks. Parks everywhere, yet still not enough. Could there be more parks? I mean, I have to walk like four houses down before I get to my nearest park. Couldn’t there be one next door?

I’ve mentioned Playground Finder before, a ridiculously useful resource for finding parks near you or near where you’re going. But still I miss them, until someone points them out. Finding a new place to go is a delight, and I don’t mind driving a bit to get to a really good one. The other day my dear friend S, who has very selfishly moved all the way to Upwey and who I did not make the most out of during the brief time we lived within walking distance of each other, suggested we catch up at a park between both of us. Usually we just meet at Knox City, because there is an abundance of coffee and the park has a fence so the kids cannot escape, but it was going to be a nice day so she suggested Marie Wallace Reserve in Bayswater, or The Train Park as it is also known because there is an actual life-size steam train in it. Sorry Marie, I’m sure you were super ace, but kids will only remember this train, as will I probably too because I can barely remember the names of other parents I meet even as I accurately remember their children. (Sorry other parents too, while I’m already apologising.)

S and her kids, newborn Z and the Rocket’s beloved best friend W, caught the train (which we could have done too, but I had the car and am lazy) and the two two-year-olds threw themselves at each other in delight upon meeting and then explored the park. And it’s ace! The train can be climbed on, there is a pretend platform, a smaller wooden train with levers to get into arguments over, and the rest of the park is an adventure playground type setup with ramps and things and slides and climbing walls and all sorts of things. There are swings that spin and there’s a giant sandpit and really, I was very impressed and would return, even if I felt slightly disoriented because I grew up in that end of town and had actually been to that park before, for netball training in 1995. Which then made me feel a bit old, but also a bit young again.

Before I get too involved in waffling on about my Lost Youth and other insufferable things, I will just cut that off there and say this was an excellent park, A+ would visit again, especially when we work out which place nearby has decent coffee. While trying unsuccessfully to find a website for this park, I discovered that there are hopeful plans in the works to put a cafe on site, in which case I will be back ALL THE TIME.

Marie Wallace Park

cnr Mountain Hwy and King St (parking for the playground is off King St)

Bayswater

Not actually from our dentist day, but a sufficiently toothy smile captured on camera by my friend Sarah.

A few months ago we got a letter in the mail from some part of the government (Centrelink? Department of Health? Ministry of Magic?) that offered free dentist visits for your two-year-old. I can’t remember if it was a particular amount of visits or if it was a particular amount of money, because we are children whose filing system is “throw it on the kitchen bench”, but either way we thought it about time to ship the Rocket off to get her fangs checked out, especially as everywhere we take her people are desperate to give her free candy.

Looking up toddler dentist visits online brought up some interesting info. Notes that seemed quite helpful suggested you play dentist with your kid, counting each others’ teeth, so we embarked on that immediately and it was quite fun. The internet also suggested things not to say to your child, like “It probably won’t hurt,” or “They shouldn’t have to use a needle” and the like. As it pointed out, those are your fears; your kid has no concept of them. The Rocket’s such a little ball of health we haven’t even had to take her to the doctor her whole life for anything but checkups, so she’s never been prodded by a doctor (though she has tantrumed at a Maternal Health Nurse who tried to measure how long she was.) She doesn’t know the dentist is a place for anything but a box full of toys we play with when picking Teach up from getting wisdom teeth out. So we just said the nice dentist would count her teeth and check they were healthy and that hopefully they wouldn’t notice we gave her a sip of Coke at the movies the other day like the A+ parents we are.

So she turned up cheerfully at the dentist and everyone greeted her with enthusiasm and in she went into the consult room. She sat on Teach’s knee as we waited, and we pointed out all the things in the room – cups of blue liquid, sinks, a moving rocket chair, lots of gadgets for looking at teeth, gloves and things. She was interested and fearless, but desperate to consume some mouthwash.

In came her dentist, Dr Waple, who is a bit handsome and rockstaresque as far as dentists go (though, in case you are wondering, he is Teach’s dentist – I pick mine based on names now after having childhood success with Dr Blase, aka Dr Whatever; my newest, I kid you not, I picked out of the phone book because his name was Dr Blood). He complimented her on her dress and was very relaxed and jokey; she smiled at him immediately. He showed her the little tooth-counting mirror, counted her teeth up to twenty, then told her she did a great job and gave her a pink balloon with a tooth superhero on it. And that was it. We didn’t even have to pay anything. The dentist explained that they like to start their dental experiences like that so kids have immediate good associations with them. And hell, it left us happy with them too; now we go back in another few months for a more thorough checkup. And I suppose, to demonstrate good dental care, we should book ourselves in too. Dammit.

 

This probably happens at every dentist, but ours is lovely, so here: Balwyn Dental Group

375 Whitehorse Rd, Balwyn

9836 3247

website

The other day we were doing one of our numerous trips to our local IGA for something stupid because we are constantly unprepared shoppers (“Honey, get your shoes on! We’re going for a walk to get a tomato!”), when the Rocket said out of nowhere, “I want to go to big movie. Big TV. Mummy had a drink. And the dog!”

This, for anyone not there at the time, was a recollection of when we took her to the flicks early this year to see Mr Peabody and Sherman, and she became fixated on my enormous cup of cola and was generally annoying. We’d put off seeing anything with her since then because no one wants to spend sixty dollars chasing a child around a dark room when you can do that for free at 3am if you want the experience, but because she’d suggested it, I thought maybe it was time to give it another go. I’m putting that mildly; what actually happened was Teach came home from work and I shouted in his face, “THE ROCKET WANTS TO GO TO A MOVIE AGAIN CAN WE GO NOW, HUH? HUH?”

Anyway school holidays are now upon us so we ended up going on Monday morning, at ten past ten, to perpetually quiet Forest Hill, and saw House of Magic. Most people I’ve told about this have stared at me blankly, because this movie’s had virtually no advertising. It’s a grim holidays for movies this spring, either way. There’s the Boxtrolls, which looked fun but the Rocket declared “too scary”, or Planes: Fire and Rescue, which is getting terrible reviews and looks like complete nonsense (and this is coming from someone who saw Cars 2 twice.) House of Magic was about a cat, and the Rocket loves cats, so off we took her.

There were maybe ten other people in the cinema, and she wasn’t even the only scrappy toddler, so I didn’t feel too guilty. And for the first half of the movie, she was great, squashed up next to her dad, watching intently. Thunder, the cat of the movie, is ditched by his family and seeks shelter in a creepy old mansion. Turns out this house is owned by Lawrence, a grey-haired magician who is also kept company by a crotchety old rabbit, a codependent mouse and an array of robots and dolls who come to life, because the house is magic or Lawrence is or something, who knows. Anyway the rabbit doesn’t want the cat to stay around for reasons that are never fully explored, and Lawrence is threatened by his dickhead nephew Daniel who wants to kick his uncle out for reasons that are never fully explored beyond “greed”. Chaos ensues, etc. It’s no Pixar film, but there are some kickass moments, especially when the camera is from the cat’s point of view, or darts around in tiny spaces. The fx are good enough, the plot didn’t make me yawn too much, and I still think it’s probably better than Planes. As for Rocket’s opinion, about halfway through she got bored, kept trying to leave, and then when we hissed at her to stay on her seat she crawled onto our laps and then tried to eat our noses. She also said, “Where’s the remote?” and, “I’m done.” But on the upside, she didn’t squeal, or run up to other people; it could’ve been worse, but I don’t think we’ll try again until next year. Next time a good children’s movie comes out (Big Hero 6, I’m looking at you) I’ll do the grown-up thing and go without one of those pesky kids.

So, the Rocket’s birth was not a fun experience for anyone involved, really. I still remember squatting in the small hospital pool that I was hoping to have a water birth in, almost chewing the side of it in pain and panic and wailing, “This is never going to end!” It did (obviously), with the help of a friendly doctor and a glinting pair of forceps, and there she was: my little Rocket, bright pink and wrinkly and, thankfully, not particularly fussed about all the work put into getting her out into the world. But then she didn’t sleep. Not at all, not for three days. Little bits here and there in someone’s arms. A couple of minutes when she was swaddled in blankets and put in a crib. I lay there on my hospital bed, worried and bone-achingly tired from the birth and the feeding and then this little baby not sleeping like those other quiet little babies in the ward, and I didn’t know what to do. Everyone tried holding her. I fed her almost constantly and expressed tiny drops of colostrum into a syringe for her. A pediatrician was called on the second day and gave her some baby Panadol, or something, in case the forceps had given her a headache. Nothing worked. Teach asked a doctor, “Should we try a dummy?” and the doctor shrugged and said, “Maybe?” So off Teach went and bought some. And the Rocket did not sleep, but she stopped crying. And so did I.

What’s ridiculous about this, of course, is that I am trying to justify my use of the dummy. As if I am waiting for you to pat me on the head and say, “It’s fine! You had to use it. It was basically a medical necessity. The world would have literally ended without you using it.” Because I hadn’t wanted to give the Rocket a dummy; we didn’t have any back at home. We were unprepared. God, we were unprepared for everything about that first week. Month. Year. Anyway.

Yet I never had any judgement on anyone else using them, before or after I had a kid of my own. They always seemed like a pretty handy idea, right? Then what’s the big deal? The big deal as per fucking usual is my own stupid head, making me insecure about using it, giving me unhelpful thoughts like: Are people going to judge me for using it? Will they criticise me behind my back? Will she have enormous dental problems from two months old? Will I realise one day that no one actually cares about what I’m doing except for me? (Apparently not.)

I remember that first time the dummy came out in my mothers group meeting, at the health centre. It might have been the second meeting, maybe the third. There was about nineteen mothers, twenty babies, and a handful of grandmothers, and we were all dressed up to impress each other, our kids were all freshly laundered, some asleep, some yelling, some feeding. Then one mother finally caved and gave their kid the dummy they were yelling about, and then about another six of us immediately, gratefully, reached into our nappy bags and brought ours out too. I wish I could remember who that first mother was, but I don’t; I just remember being so happy that it wasn’t only us who used them.

I’m not here to produce articles on whether they are bad or good for you. I am here to say, like I always want to say: you are a good parent. You’re doing fine. Gosh, your kid loves you. Dummies, no dummies, a kid who refuses dummies even though you desperately wish they wouldn’t; it’s fine. You’re fine. High five the computer screen right now just like I am. Go team caregivers! WHOO!

Anyway, one day this dummy business did all have to end, and we decided it would be last week for some unfathomable reason (yet again, past Fiona is just the worst.) There are a few good ideas out there for getting rid of dummies. Santa accepts them for extra presents, I’ve heard. One friend suggested your kid can take it to Build-a-Bear and shove the dummy in with the stuffing, creating a new, cuddly comforter to have in bed with you. We went for what I recall was my friend Sally’s idea: you give your dummies to the Dummy Fairy, who takes your (disgusting, chewed, fluff-covered) dummies to the little helpless babies that need them, and rewards you with gifts. Bribery! It’s one of my favourite things as a parent. As per Sally’s suggestion, we invested in a ‘Lil Fairy Door. You can pick these up at markets and online; if you are a Last Minute Lisa like me, you can also get them at Adairs Kids, though fair warning, they are EXPENSIVE. Because we’d already hyped it up and needed to buy it to continue with the enthusiasm, I shelled out the fifty (!) dollars for it, but if you are a Prepared Penelope then by all means look around. (And no criticism to Adairs, who need to make profits and stuff, but I could have just bought six years worth of dummies instead.)

We had been talking about said fairy for a while now. When she started to tell other people we knew it had sunk in a little, so we kicked it up a notch. “Rocket, what does the fairy take?” “Dummies!” “And what would you like her to leave for you as a present?” “MORE DUMMIES!” (Little smarty pants.) We eventually sold her on the idea when she realised her parents were good for just about anything to get this done and that she wanted a Sylvanian Families house to go with her figurines – other people have bought fairy wings, which also seems lovely. So we get home from the shops last Thursday and Teach snuck off into her room and then was heard exclaiming, “Oh my gosh! Rocket! Something’s in your ROOM!” So we went to investigate and YOU GUYS, there was a DOOR, right there on the wall, all covered in glitter. We knew right away what was up so we collected the dummies and put them on a plate, adding a few pieces of Pocky (her father thought this was a generous idea), sprinkling everything with fairy dust to let the fairy know to come out, and adding pictures we all drew of what the fairy looked like. (Despite my best efforts against it as my least favourite colour, apparently she is pink from dress to eyes, though has blue hair.) We put her to sleep with much excitement at eight o’clock, waited until she actually fell asleep without her dummy at twenty past ten (bleurgh), and then assisted the fairy by removing the dummies, pictures and snacks (sadly the Pocky had been excitedly covered in too much glitter for consumption) and quietly swapping them for this house.

Happily, she slept solidly all night woke up around 6:30 – her usual wake up time is probably around 7, when we get up – and without further ado we got her up and exclaimed “Whoa, look what happened!”, whereupon the Rocket promptly saw her dummies gone, threw herself on the ground and wailed. Once we’d talked her down and pointed out the house, she sniffled her way over to it and then suddenly realised it was really real and really hers, and she has played with it obsessively ever since.

Sleeping has not been easy these past five days. Her day sleeps used to be super easy – throw her down, say “See ya!” and she was out – now it takes at least half an hour, if at all. Last night, again, it was after ten o’clock before she went to sleep; on Sunday, when she didn’t have a daytime sleep at all, we put her down at eight and BAM she was asleep. Still I will fight for these day naps; I need them to remain human. Part of me wonders why I made it so hard for myself by doing it now, and not later when she might have been easier to convince; part of me guesses it’ll be hard no matter when it happens. All I know is that the fairy’s door left us on Sunday, but the very kind fairy (who had a gift voucher) left her a book about dinosaurs going to sleep with a ribbon tied around it, and one day, instead of never sleeping, she will be a moody teenager who sleeps all the time, and I will look back at this post and sigh.

Oh yes, that’s right, I was in Sydney a while ago, wasn’t I? I guess I should probably finish writing that up, huh? Good idea, self.

We left our luggage at the hotel in the morning and went off to finally explore some of the more touristy parts of town. First stop, predictably, was Circular Quay; we’d been given some sage advice to take a commuter ferry for a trip instead of a tourist one. We caught one to Darling Harbour and the prices were pretty reasonable at about six dollars each for us grown-ups. The Rocket was unimpressed by the wind but thrilled by the fact that we were actually on a boat – her first non-rowboat experience – so she managed to sit at the back* of the boat with us for a decent amount of our half-hour-ish trip. And let’s face it, the reason everyone bangs on so much about ferries and Sydney Harbour is because is is BEAUTIFUL. It really is. That lapping blue water, the majestic bridge, that tingle when you see the Opera House (just like in the movies, right?), realising properly that you are in another place, and one that slaps Melbourne’s water experience right on the cheek. If you are in Sydney, take a ferry. I wish we’d gone on one every day.

So off we went to Darling Harbour. There’s a maritime museum over the other side of the harbour that looks really interesting – ships and submarines and all types of things that you can climb on – and it went on my list of “what to do here next time, and make sure there’s a next time, punk”. We ambled along the wharf, looking at the restaurants indecisively, passing Madame Tussaud’s and a zoo and an aquarium, wishing the Rocket was older and we had an endless stretch of days ahead of us to do all these things. (There’s even a “9D” movie experience, yup.) As it was, off we went along the bridge and around Sydney’s streets until we got to Westfield Centrepoint, where we came over desperately hungry for lunch, completely unable to find a food court, and so ate at Caffe Contessa, a little European-type bistro located at the end of an escalator. There wasn’t much on offer for me, but it was a very cute little cafe and I could just have toast; the service turned out to be super-friendly and helpful and I ended up with another vegan staple, the bruschetta, while Teach ordered some cheese melty thing and the Rocket got toast with jam. Turns out, it was delicious. I mean, it was bread and tomatoes and olive oil – but they got it right, and I am always having bruschetta at crap restaurants with nothing else to offer. Having said that, after we were full and happy and paid up, we took another escalator up and lo and behold there was the motherflipping food court and it was HUGE and it had EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD to eat, including an Iku which I had been desperate to try. Anyway, we laughed, we sulked, and carried on to the Sydney Tower, Sydney’s tallest building and Australia’s third-tallest building. We paid our exorbitant fee to go up the Tower, attempted the 4D movie about Sydney with flying and flames and a vibrating floor (the Rocket noped her way out of that almost immediately, but I stayed because awww yeah 4D movies), then went up a lift and bam, tall building.

I don’t know what she was shushing up here. Probably me saying, “Smile, kiddo! Smile! Smile! Pose! No, this way!”

Melbourne wins this round. Sydney Tower is fine, but maybe needs a little updating; Eureka Tower is much more glossy, and sells coffee. It was nice to look out imperially over the little people down there on the ground, and to try and get my bearings, which I couldn’t because I am hopeless at directions (chicks, amirite? Haha etc) and I always love a tower, but it wasn’t very high and I was a little underwhelmed. I mean, it wasn’t a boat, that’s for sure.

We considered taking the train back to the hotel, but really, we just wanted to walk some more, slowly down those streets one last time, poking around the stores and just enjoying being elsewhere, you know?

The Rocket didn’t manage to get in a nap, and maintained excitement levels all day long and all through our train trip to the airport and the long wait for our flight, and after a little impatience at boarding (argh! boarding) she was thrilled and happy again to be on a plane, even in the darkness that fell as we flew interstate. Then finding our car, and driving home, tired, happy, with a toddler that was, mostly, a total peach for our trip, and a city that was absolutely perfect. Thanks, Sydney – you’re ace. x

 

* Teach and I spent a minute or so trying to figure out what the back of a boat is called. “The stern? Or the bow. No, the bow’s the front. Wait. Is it the aft?” So let’s assume you don’t know either, and let’s stick with “back”.

Having a kid changes your life in many ways (for example, today I am Sick, but instead of calling off work and lazing around drinking water and watching daytime soap operas, I am still fielding questions and insistent requests for playing and having to fend off the Rocket from kissing me so she doesn’t get sick too, which makes her cry) but one of the ways I didn’t expect was that sudden urge to make the most of my spare time made me – and this sounds vain – actually a little bit more interesting. As dithering late-twentysomethings, Teach and I had our jobs and each other and our insular creative pursuits, then we had a baby and, I guess, to remind ourselves that we were things other than parents and job-holders, we started to find other outlets. Teach joined a band, was shortlisted for an award for a comic he drew, and has just sent off the final file for his full-length graphic novel to the printers to publish. I have my podcast, I joined a book club full of pretty cool folks, and found myself part of ACWA, which handles the Ned Kelly Awards for Australian crime writing. After months of emails and demands and panic-flailing, this weekend saw the announcement of the shortlist the committee and the judges had worked hard to put together, two hours away at the Bendigo Writers Festival. Teach suggested I take myself off on the train to attend the shortlist announcement on the Saturday night and get a visit in with my very oldest friend, Rachael, who lives up there. I said no at first, because it’s what I do, and the idea of spending my first night away from my daughter was pretty overwhelming. Then I thought more about being there to see the finished product of the shortlist, and spending time with the first friend I’d ever made on my own, and then the Rocket spent a whole day annoying me and I was all: I’M IN, LET’S GO.

The train ride took around an hour and fifty minutes; in that time, I played with my phone, read a book, looked at scenery, ate chips, ate an apple after feeling bad about eating chips, and was just completely and utterly on my own. It was quite blissful, really – I’d brought a book of short stories along (this one), so I could feel like I’d finished something before taking in the passing tiny towns, enormous homesteads, and green landscapes dotted with trees, cows, hay bales, all the kinds of stickers you’d get in a book about the country. It was quite marvellous. Even better was the squeezy hug I got from Rachael at Kangaroo Flat, where she met me with a big beautiful smile and, like always, even when we hadn’t spoken by anything apart from SMS for months, it was like we had never been apart. Back at her place, with her partner and their youngest son at home merrily working on some banging and crashing that tradesfolk and their four-year-olds are wont to do, we hoovered down some lunch and then she spirited me away for a little tour.

She drove me past her work, past a vast and entrancing amount of lovely ye olde buildings, around the fountain that one colleague told me to say hello to, and then up to the Capital Theatre for a pre-event scope-out (because when you’ve known someone for twenty-eight years, you know when they are getting anxious about something, especially when she tells you, “I am feeling quite anxious about this”), then to the accompanying gallery for a brief and impressive look-see, then for a coffee at the Basement on View. It’s tucked underneath the theatre and I realised immediately upon entering that this was the type of place I wished was my local cafe. They were flat-out catering for festival-going literary types, but we found ourselves a cosy little nook in a building almost completely made up of cosy little nooks, and sat together with warm drinks and company and well, you know. It was really just the best.

Back at her place after a scenic way back, I faffed about in front of a mirror and then headed out to the event itself, which I’ve detailed better here; suffice it to say that it all went smoothly, the company was delectable and you should read all those books. A tableful of us headed tipsily out for dinner as well, attempting at first to go to Bunja Thai (lookit that glorious heritage interior in the link!) but they were too full to accommodate us, so we tripped a couple of shops up the road to Curry Garden, which, excitedly, had a little sign right there on the menu saying that there were vegan options available. (I was super pleased about that, as I’d been intending on flying under the radar on this particular culinary expedition, maybe having a spoonful of rice and saying I wasn’t hungry, just so I didn’t have to tell my new friends I was vegan, as I’d been frantically Googling “vegan Bendigo” for a while before and found virtually nothing vegan, so I couldn’t even make suggestions.) They had a special list of all the items that were vegan or could be made vegan, and we ordered three appetisers, two mains, rice and some roti I could have, along with a couple of non-veg mains too. The onion bhaji were almost worth losing friends over, and the chickpea masala and aloo palak perfectly serviceable. The service was friendly, but a bit slow; I’d still happily return.

The next morning, I deigned to leave my snuggly cocoon of a sleeping bag and declared that I would take my three hosts out for breakfast. Turns out nothing in Bendigo is open before ten o’clock on a Sunday morning – “We’re on country time, remember?” Rachael said at one point as I stared sadly in a closed cafe’s window at their warm-looking fire – so we ended up at the Pall Mall Cafe, a small but friendly cafe that does a trade in your standard big breakfasts. I just ordered toast and coffee, and the service was ridiculously fast (handy when you have a friendly but bored four-year-old crawling all over the place), and the coffee was HUGE – I didn’t even finish it, I was so overwhelmed. Nothing flash, but nothing to sneer at by any means. Across the road was a park, a playground, a lovely old bridge (seriously, I’m just saying, and this is very unlike me because I am Very Modern and Stuff, but Bendigo’s 82,000+ population gets to see much nicer architecture just everywhere than we do down in upstart young Melbourne), and a giant, gorgeous and historic-looking old school, and so we ran around in the cold for a while before heading over to the Showgrounds Market, a fairly large and sprawling market that seems to survive almost entirely on plants and counterfeit Peppa Pig merchandise. I bought stickers for the kids to be the Favourite Aunt, and I made the surprising discovery in one of the halls of Wings Japanese Homemade Bakery. Wings has cakes, mousse, doughnuts, egg tarts and the like – and about six different vegan options. I was full from breakfast but picked up a little sample of a savoury curry doughnut, which was super yum – afterwards I moaned about not buying some for the train ride ahead. It started raining just as we got out of the hall, Rachael’s son covered in icing from his Japanese cupcake, so we drove back home and retired to the couch for one last companionable snuggle before I went off to the train station again to get home.

Selections at Wings Japanese Homemade Bakery

The trip was, again, delicious in its solitude; Melbourne was wet and freezing; but when I plodded all damp and whimpering up the driveway after walking from the station I was given the loveliest, happiest smile from my Rocket through the front window, and everything was warm after all.

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