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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.

There are few things more satisfying than opening up your heavy hotel curtains to find the sky as blue as a 90s teen heartthrob’s eyes. It means your day is going to go well, your party hair isn’t going to become soggy, and your kid won’t have to lug around an umbrella and poke other people in the shins with it. So up we all got, ate some cereal, then spent far too long making ourselves all very beautiful for the party we were to attend in the afternoon. The Rocket and her dad had gone out two days before while I was at work and picked her a very froufrou frock, all tulle and sparkles, which she wore with skull and crossbones sneakers; I’d hit up Dangerfield a couple of nights before for my own Melbourne-black frock with a pair of cityscape tights; Teach wore a white shirt with bicycles on it and looked very handsome. We layered up with coats and caught the train to Newtown for our to-do.

Nicked from the Wedpics site (pretty handy tool for those getting hitched or not hitched) and taken by the superlative C, party-thrower extraordinaire

Firstly, Sydney public transport requires you to know which station you’re going to and touch-screen your way to a ticket; some other machines have this totally hilarious system with some fifty or however many actual pushable buttons to pick your destination. Melbourne has Myki so I can hardly criticise, but it was pretty fun for us all to jab at the buttons while laughing in a mocking fashion. Anyway, once we were beyond that we moseyed onto our destination, via the quite lovely Hollis Park, which had an elaborate, split-level playground. It’s seriously beautiful around there, all sloping hills and gorgeous close-knit houses looking over parks. Newtown, or at least the small part we went to, was full of giant second-hand bookshops (the Rocket led me to the economics aisle and made me read her the titles), cutesy little shops full of stuff I would’ve spent all my money on if I’d gone through those doors, and vegan restaurants. Our destination was Rubyos, a lovely fresh-looking restaurant where we had our own room walled off and I walked through the door to be greeted by a bunch of people so friendly and just gloriously, colourfully stylish, that I was immediately happy. The Rocket looked shy for a while until complimented on her dress, then foofed around twirling for a while. The non-bride and non-groom were beautiful, polished, and beaming; there was talk, and merriment, and readings, declarations of love for this moment if not an unknown future, and singing and such emotion that I almost couldn’t even. It was sweet and funny and original and I loved everyone by the end, including everyone who was very kind to the Rocket even though she was the youngest by some twenty years. To her credit, she was pretty great: she talked during the ceremony, but only because she wanted to narrate out loud the Maisy book I brought along to shut her up. She had puppy stickers and a book to put them in, but most of the stickers ended up on the guests as she happily shared them with everyone and eventually had people coming over for requests. And the food, guys, OH the food – it was GLORIOUS and there was MOUNTAINS of it. Grazing plates of glory: beginning, I think, with an antipasto that had the most absolutely genuinely best crackers and baba ganoush I have ever, ever had, and a tasty little salad and olives (blech) and other things; there were rice burgers that fell apart but tasted heavenly; steamed green beans with ginger, lime, and cashew nuts (I think), which weren’t my thing but Teach adored; ancient grain and vegetable patties; the best fucking potatoes I may have ever ever had; so much more, I don’t know. It ended with cupcakes that stained people’s mouths blue as everyone kissed goodbye. It was, of course, totally worth the trip, and I’m so glad we went.

Totally stolen from C’s sister. Sorry H! It was just such a loverly picture. x

We went home in the cooling afternoon and tucked the Rocket in for a nap. Teach sent me out to get a coffee and explore the city on my own, and I wandered the streets, excited to be somewhere new, somewhere so familiar – all the stores, of course, are essentially the same as home – yet the streets were too big, or too small, and the buildings were wrong, and so beautiful. I couldn’t find anywhere for coffee but ended up at a now-forgotten chocolate shop where I did some sketching (I remain genuinely terrible but I like drawing pictures of the Rocket doing ridiculous things) and had a fairly average coffee that made me quietly smug about Melbourne’s coffee scene. Just as I finished, Teach let me know that the Rocket had rejoined the waking world, so back I went, we regrouped, and went out for a walk.

Our aim was Bodhi, upon the advice of many friends who said it was great but we had to be okay with spending big. We are very talented at wasting money on food, and seeing as we’d already blown a stack of cash just getting to Sydney there was no point in holding back on a tasty night’s dinner, so off we went. Hyde Park was on our way, and I really can’t tell you how happy I always am to encounter mid-city parks. The juxtaposition of city buildings and grass to run around on – it’s great. So we ran around, then unexpectedly bumped into a street gang of possums who, unlike our local skittish brand, happily came right up, sniffed your sneakers and begged for food. The Rocket was very pleased if not slightly alarmed about the whole scenario; I’m sure our local possum hunts are forever ruined by this version. After getting confused and not figuring out the multilayers of the park, we found our way sideways and underneath to Bodhi, a sprawling, glittery place with outdoor heaters, friendly staff and trees knotted with fairy lights. They could have fed me torn paper bags and I wouldn’t have cared, it was just so lovely. We sat outside so we could get rice on the ground and ordered.

Overwhelmed by choice, we ordered plain rice for the Rocket, who jabs at all menus and yells “RICE!” at waiters even if we are at a pizza joint; edamame (as always); English spinach gow dumplings; Australian mushroom gow dumplings; smoked soy, coconut, chili and coriander betel leaves; chickpea battered winter vegetables with sour cream and sweet chili sauce; san choy bao and sweet yam tempura spring rolls. Edamame: excellent as per usual (and much better than the night before, slathered in salt); spinach dumplings A++; mushroom dumplings awful as mushrooms are awful (Teach adored them though); betel leaves miniature but absolutely incredible; battered winter vegetables hit and miss (I was also full once I got to them); san choy bao super tasty even though the Rocket, devastatingly, threw half the lettuce on the ground; the sweet yam was nice but way way too sweet. Share with four people, or maybe eight so you can have half each. One made me a little queasy. Still, it was a beautiful, satisfying meal, the service was lightspeed-fast, and it did cost a lot but hey, worth it. I pondered a few times during ordering about getting the peking duck, but kept talking myself out of the $23, and since regretted it entirely after my colleague Alison said, “You went to Bodhi, right, and got the peking duck? I have literally flown to Sydney just to eat that dish.” DAMMIT PAST FIONA, YOU NEVER LEARN. It cost us around eighty bucks and was worth it.
Then back home via the lit-up streets around Sydney Tower (which was closed, pah), and back to the hotel for the Rocket to sleep soundly in her metal prison while her jailers sat on the couch with Nickelodeon and popcorn.

We arrived in Sydney around one o’clock on Saturday. It was windy but bright, a wholesome twenty degrees, and someplace different. For one, the airport has a train. Sydney 1, Melbourne 0.

It costs about $16.40 to get an adult onto the airport line into the city proper – it’s only about three stops to Central, so I’m not sure if it’s cheaper to get a taxi if there’s a few of you. The Rocket was free, so we sucked up the thirty-plus dollars and delighted in being on a double-decker train. Our hotel was a short walk from Central, so we wheeled ourselves over and checked in. I was in charge of booking as Teach was armpit-deep in reports at the time, so I spent a few days getting increasingly agitated about how expensive it is to stay places, and not having any visual of where in Sydney is good or safe or close or fun, and panicking about the date getting closer and everything selling out and us sleeping in an internet cafe. Eventually I chose the Campbell Street Meriton Apartments, because they had an immediately available online chat and could answer all of my questions about cots and babies and stuff, and their prices seemed relatively competitive, especially for the size of the rooms. (Not that I would know. I am just awful at booking things. If it’s on sale, I’ll find out, the day after I’ve paid upfront and signed a no-refund disclaimer. It’s just not one of my skills, sadly.) Anyway, it turns out that the reason it was a bit expensive was because it’s right in the middle of the city, and quite nice; armed with a bit more knowledge I would probably stay a few suburbs further out next time and just catch a train in. Still, as Past Fiona had already paid for it and Present Fiona got to stay there, it was a nice place: a one-bedroom serviced apartment, which meant we could get the Rocket to sleep in a separate room and then go watch free Foxtel in the lounge/kitchen. For another $35 we had a cot put in the room; it was pretty small, and with metal prison bars instead of gentle white wood like the one at home we inherited from my sister. As we settled in, we tried to get her to sleep, but she wasn’t really on board with that idea. Instead we got her up and took her for a wander around.

This door to our hotel: most fun thing in New South Wales

It’s hard not to compare Sydney to Melbourne the whole time. In my mind where we stayed was the equivalent to the Spring Street end of Little Bourke, with theatres and people but narrow streets and not quite the level of excitement of the bigger streets. Sydney is cleaner, but maybe less friendly – unless it’s just that it’s unfamiliar – and has almost no street art in the places we were. There weren’t many cute little shops to go into, though there were lots of tasty-looking eateries. We strolled up Pitt St just as gale-force winds hit; hats flew off people’s heads and one person was attacked bodily by an errant newspaper. The Rocket has stopped enjoying wind and instead chose to wail, so we went into a Coles for a bit to buy some milk and cereal, then went up to Kings Comics and talked ourselves out of piles of collectible toys we didn’t need. It was nearing dinnertime, so, having previously consulted my friends online about where to go, we had dinner at Mother Chu’s Vegetarian Kitchen.

It was a patchy start; we got there at about five past five but weren’t given our mains until about a quarter to six, though we’d had some (sadly unsalted) edamame to start. The service was very friendly, however, and the Rocket just happy to be indoors. The menu mostly calls things “soy” or “gluten” instead of the usual “duck” or “chicken”, and doesn’t elaborate on the flavours. I chose crispy bean curd with mushrooms and broccoli; Teach picked a crispy gluten dish. Once they turned up, we were much more positive; the food is pretty delicious, and maybe we’d just been a bit tired and cranky. My bean curd wasn’t crispy, but it was warm and good and there was tons of it and I ate it all up, only managing to get a little of Teach’s crispy gluten before he scoffed all his too. The Rocket was happy with her bowl of rice, a bunch of edamame and some of my tofu. If I’m in Sydney again, I’d give it another shot for sure, maybe this time calling a day in advance so I could have some of their vegetarian Peking Duck, or some steamed BBQ buns, or satay sticks.

We decided to call it a night after that, and took the Rocket back to the hotel, tucked her in, consoled her, tucked her in, gave her toys, went back and picked up her toys from the floor, tucked her in, etc etc for all eternity until she finally slept. Then we ate candy and watched terrible television until we were sick, because if there’s one thing we do well, it’s knowing how to waste being in a different city.

Last Saturday, some dear friends of mine threw themselves a celebration of their love, in Sydney. They’d kindly flown down to celebrate the similar shindig Teach and I had for our tenth anniversary a few years ago, and we’d been wanting to take the Rocket on a plane for a while, so when we received the invite we threw caution to Sydney’s gale-force winds and booked ourselves some flights. Then I set to becoming anxious.

Kids on planes can send opinion columns completely bananas. They should be quiet – no, they should have their own section – no, they should NEVER FLY. Just whatever you do, don’t ever make anyone around you aware of the fact that sometimes the people we share this planet with aren’t attuned to their needs. Don’t get me wrong, I sure as hell didn’t want to spend any of my international flights next to a kid who screams for nine hours straight, but what do you do? If a kid’s gotta get overseas then they gotta get overseas; it’s not like flying is anything but cramped and annoying anyway, and yet it is a complete and beautiful miracle that we can do it at all. What I’m trying to say is: get over it.

Anyway despite all the above I still made extensive and panicked plans about How To Stop The Rocket From Having Any Negative Emotion during the flight. Luckily, she adores planes – we live under a flight path so every time we go outside we can usually see them, and we point and shriek excitedly at them – so she was already super keen on the whole thing. For about a month beforehand, she would wake up every morning and I’d say, “What are we doing today?” and though the answer was generally “swimming”, “Gymbaroo”, “park” or “three coffees” she would always give me this tiny smile and say, “Plaaaaaane?” So, excitement about flight, check.

I booked the flights for her awake-times, 12pm on the way out and 5:30pm for the return, so she would be rested and happy. The return was a stupid idea of course, because I thought smugly to myself, she will have had her afternoon nap and will be so very happy, and didn’t think until we were already in Sydney that of course you have to check out of your hotel in the morning and thus she had nowhere to nap. The upshot is she didn’t sleep, but was so thrilled about going on a plane again that it didn’t really matter.

Then I packed our bags. She has a rocket backpack (you name it, she has it with a rocket on it) and I nicked it from her and filled it with super excellent things to keep her occupied. Here is what it contained:

Side pocket 1:

- water bottle (FYI, those sippy-straw ones will spill over during the flight due to air pressure in the cabin making water come up the straw, but it’s pretty funny)

Side pocket 2:

- Matchbox dragon car

- Hot Wheels digger

- Little People Batgirl car

Front pocket (aka snack central)

- jelly babies to chew on during takeoff (on the return flight this was a free lollipop she got given at a candy store)

- little apple-flavoured rice cakes (bizarrely popular for something pretty dull)

- animal-shaped biscuits (“Do you want an animal biscuit?” “DOGGY!” “You ate all the doggies.” “BAAAAA!” “You ate all the sheep. Have a butterfly.”)

- Sweet William chocolate (neglected)

- muesli bar

- different type of muesli bar (the first option is always wrong)

- no fruit because I wasn’t sure if you could take fruit interstate. I still don’t know. If you can I would’ve packed an apple to make me look like I am Very Healthy At All Times, then she would’ve thrown peel all over the floor.

Main pocket

- new books:

a) Sam’s Sandwich, which has food fold-outs and a rhyming story and gross bugs in sandwiches, and was totes perfect

b) Where’s Maisy?, Oh god, who knows, what if she is missing FOREVER??

c) Some book about catching a plane that did not hold her interest in the least despite being, you know, quite topical

(I also bought Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs including an actual bucket full of dinosaurs and secreted it in my carry-on luggage in case of a giant screaming crisis which never eventuated; I have since hidden it and will bring it out at some future desperate moment.)

- favourite teddy of the moment (she’s not really attached to any of her 87,000 stuffed toys – sometimes she NEEDS to take one to the park but it is usually abandoned on the slide after three minutes. Luckily her most recent semi-favourite was bag-sized.)

- small, blank notebook

- two sheets of stickers

- new crayons (they broke immediately. Don’t buy crayons from the Reject Shop.)

- *cough* a Nintendo DS (so, yes, she is only two, but I upgraded to a 3DS because I am a small child who LOVES things in 3D, and the trade-in on my old DS Lite was only $20, so we thought we’d keep it for the kiddo. Then a few weeks ago we were at EB Games and she found a copy of Cookie’s Counting Carnival for less than ten bucks, and I was all, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and it turns out the worst that can happen is a kid screaming, “COOKIE MONSTER!” all day because she is now a gamer at 2 1/4 years old. The games we have are pretty simple – counting, moving things around the screen, pointing at shapes, etc. Most of them are probably available in similar form for your smartphone/tablet but it’s nice not to worry about her deleting everything important like your Two Dots scores.)

a) Cookie’s Counting Carnival (Has actually improved her pattern recognition. Is short. Don’t pay more than $10 for it.)

b) Ready, Set, Grover (Better graphics than above, and only $6. Teaches “healthy habits”, apparently but not really. Not quite as good or easy.)

c) Dora Saves the Mermaids (Ugh I hate all Dora things, she is the worst. Sadly, this game is absolutely perfect: easy games, doesn’t care if you get everything wrong, teaches her three Spanish words. Pretty short but I don’t really feel bad about panic-spending $19 on it the day before we flew out.)

So that was quite a lot of things, but if I hadn’t just been given a book voucher it would’ve been a handful of half-chewed opshop books, and my iPhone, and stickers and snacks. We didn’t actually get through everything: I hid the bag after we landed and re-presented it to her on the way back with the rest of the things. That held me in good stead.

ONTO THE FLIGHT. She was happy and excited for the drive in, and the bus trip from our long-term parking. She didn’t mind the short-ish queue to check in our one bag. We were early (rare for us) and went to get some chips and watch the planes take off for a bit. Then through the scanners, to the gate. The departure lounge was probably the most tedious part for her because I hadn’t planned for it and she was getting excited because the plane was RIGHT THERE, so we walked to the end of the gates and watched the planes meander around and take off and be loud.

We’d prepared her for things to be very loud and noisy, and that it was supposed to happen and was pretty funny, really. Watching the planes was probably helpful, and she didn’t seem scared.

Once kids hit 2, they have to get their own seat; I’m not sure how fares usually work, but we flew Virgin and they charged a full fare for her seat. Apparently on long haul flights it’s about 50-75%. Before that age, they sit on your lap. For the very first time, I let someone else have the window seat and put her in it. Actually, I took the aisle seat, because the last time I flew, at 7.5 months pregnant, I freaked the hell out and started crying, thinking we were going to die and I had endangered her. (It was a calm and fine flight; I blame hormones.) I thought her much calmer father was a better seating partner. She was thrilled when the plane taxied around the tarmac, saying, “Plane moving!” and beaming. It found its runway, revved up, then sped up: this was when she panicked a little, leaning into the brace position we’d just taught her and looking a bit scared, but ten seconds later as the plane took off, we said, “Your tummy is going to feel pretty funny!” and she laughed, then settled in her seat with her book and didn’t fret for the entire flight. I didn’t panic either, seeing her brave little happy face. If a two-year-old can deal with a plane, a thirty-two-year-old probably can too, right?

I asked some friends before the flight for advice and stories. The resounding piece of advice from my mothers group was “Food and iPad”; one friend told me a story of his son on a plane running up and down the aisles before tripping, hitting his head and bleeding everywhere, then sitting in his chair and kicking the seat in front of him the whole flight. Luckily the Rocket’s feet don’t reach the seat in front, but she was just divine, happily playing and reading and eating and looking out at the clouds and sky. When we prepared to land, we prepped her for the hilarious upcoming bouncing, and as the people in the aisle across from us held onto their armrests and gasped at the bumping, the Rocket just laughed and bounced herself around yelling, “Wibble wobble!” Then we landed and she clapped the plane and I can’t even tell you my utter relief.

I don’t like offering advice because, as a general rule, I don’t know what I am talking about. But I think telling her all the plane things were going to be funny and hilarious worked out well for us. It’s easy, natural and fine to fall into the way of saying, “I know, it’s scary, isn’t it? I’m here, it’s fine, I love you, hold my hand,” and we did say she might be scared but it was all supposed to happen and was a fun type of scary, and there she was, happy, surely with popping ears but not a peep about it.

The return flight went much the same way; I hadn’t learned my lesson and she was a bit, er, rambunctious at the departure lounge, so next time I’d give her something new for that little wait, I think, though it prepared all the other people around us for a scene that never actually eventuated, so that was nice.

So there you go. That was our first time with a kid on a plane; it will probably have ruined us for every subsequent time, when she is a complete jerk. The flight was only for an hour, and I don’t know how people keep kids happy for an international flight (my sources tell me phenergan, but see your doctor for such things, and the Rocket’s Gran says she gave it to her son on a flight once and instead of sleeping he stayed awake having panicked hallucinations, so, you know, that could happen.)

But don’t let other passengers cramp your style. Take your kid on holiday, or to visit your family, or just for funsies. Your kid has just as much of a right to fly as anyone. Vive le avions*, punks.

 

*Google translate tells me I got this wrong but it can sod off. Avions vive, indeed.

It was my birthday recently. Happy birthday to me, right! Yay! I know many people get quite coy about having birthdays and let them slide sneakily by while saying airily two weeks later, “Oh, yes, my birthday was ages ago,” but we all know I am terribly childish and have been talking as excitedly about it as a five-year-old. I made a short list of demands of Teach: new cushions (check) and dinner at Smith & Daughters (check). I also got a plethora of other lovely things, but as I am not actually five, I’ll spare you the excited commentary.

We got my folks to look after the Rocket so we could dine properly here, as it’s more a fine food restaurant than the usual Lord of the Fries/Guzman y Gomez type food we’re always stuffing ourselves with on weekends. The poor little spaceship was sick – she’s coughing in bed and wailing afterwards even as I type, breaking my heart completely – but my mother is very good, as mothers can be, at issuing a hug and an icy pole to soothe a sore throat (she would also say honey and lemon on a teaspoon but we didn’t have either.)

And OH. My friends. Smith & Daughters delivered. It’s been open for months and I’ve been desperately trying to get us there the entire time, but have failed to get us babysitting that doesn’t end in us seeing a movie like Godzilla (it’s no Pacific Rim) or Spider-man 2 (it’s no Spider-man 1) or Maleficent (it’s no Sleeping Beauty, thankfully). Anyway, here we were, and I was all flappy with excitement, and the people were immediately lovely. The seats are a touch crowded – we were elbow-knocking distance from the first-date couple beside us – but as more people came along it became fun and rowdy and no one cared any more. The couple beside us were exclaiming over the menu using words like “meatballs” and “chorizo” and clarified with the friendly waitress that everything was vegan, which, yes, it was (I was going to tell them so but no one needs a know-it-all to butt in on your date, even if it is her birthday weekend), and I wanted everything on the menu, especially all those things with corn chips. Eventually we ordered tacos (I had jackfruit, Teach ordered the spicy chorizo), the tuna, cheese and pea croquettes as per all of my friends’ instructions, the patatas bravas (potato and chorizo), and the uh I forget but they compared it to a Cuban shepherds pie. Then I gotan $18 hot buttered rum because did I mention it was my birthday?

Sadly I forgot to take any pictures but I am going to very liberally steal some from Where’s the Beef, absolute five-star food bloggers who are overseas at the moment which hopefully means they won’t remember to come after me with a pointy stick once they return. This was the potato! The chorizo was not sausage-like in slices like we thought it would be, but it was lovely all the same, and spicy just like they said.

First, though, the tacos came out, as swift as anything, and my jackfruit taco was the bomb. We traded bites and both declared our own choices the best, because in love everything is a competition, right? Yes. The croquettes flew over shortly afterwards and were just divine. Cheesy! Crumby! Not-really-tuna-y-but-that’s-okay, and the sauce was gorgeous and creamy. I don’t even like crumbed things. All crumbed things are horrible – all but this. This was amazing. The cheesiness, dear readers! No wonder our table neighbours were suspicious. These people are magic kitchen elves.

There was a slight delay between that and our next courses but our lovely-lovely waitress stopped by to make sure we were okay and let us know food was coming, and I was relaxed and happy in the tummy due to the first things being so great, and getting very warm in the brain from my hot buttered rum (first sip: this tastes strange and was a bad idea; last sip: this is incredible and I will order fifteen more). Their playlist was right the hell up my alley with surf rock all night, the decor is stones and signs and giant candle monsters and playful salt-and-pepper shakers and moody lighting, and we progressively became happier and one with the world. Then the patatas and pie arrived; the patatas were good because they were potatoes and seriously who can’t love potatoes, and the pie was quite good, with this cornbread-type crust that I was all over because back when the S&D owners were running South in the People’s Market their cornbread was heaven on earth. This was Teach’s choice, and it had a mushroom filling, which I liked a bit despite the fact I hate mushrooms, though probably wouldn’t get again, because I hate mushrooms. If Teach got it again (which he was already saying he would when we left), I would totally steal a quarter of it again anyway because the flavours were grand.

Sorry Cindy and Michael sorry sorry I stole this one too but the tart was SO GOOD lookit that ice cream

By the end of that we were far too full to ever eat anything again, so we ordered dessert: I got the salted caramel tart with avocado ice cream and Teach picked the quince-filled donuts because we’d been thinking of going down the road to Big Lou’s and getting some hot jam donuts afterwards. I had my doubts about avocado ice cream because I’m not very inventive and it sounds completely terrible, but when it came and I tried it with that eyebrows-raised British-stiff-upper-lip face that you do when trying new food, it was, hands-down, the most unexpectedly excellent thing I have tried in a long time, and I ate all of it with the tart (well, the half of the tart I could salvage from Teach’s grubby paws) and it was a very good moment in my culinary life. I could only fit one of Teach’s donuts in my belly, but the quince filling was actually a really subtle and beautiful flavour and the donuts were excellently fluffy and sugary, and I could fit two more in my handbag in a serviette so that worked out well.

It was an amazing, perfect, superlative dinner out. Teach and I are usually order, smash-food, pay and run-type diners, clearing a fancy dinner in twenty minutes like it’s a competition (because life is a competition, yes?), but we lazed happily around our meal for an hour and a half. It felt like a proper birthday dinner, with the wait staff and owners as perky and kind as friends. A++ would eat again.

As far as kid-stuff goes, because well this is supposed to be a parenting blog and all, apparently they do have high chairs, and while it’s date-friendly it’s also light and fun enough to accommodate children, especially with the speedy table service. I’d bring the Rocket for sure – but probably for a weekend brunch as the evenings might be too boisterous for her – and not order booze to keep the price a bit more reasonable. I think she’d love the croquettes, and I think she’d love my good mood about it.

And thus ends my 1200-word essay about my birthday, thank you very much.

 

Smith & Daughters

175 Brunswick St

Fitzroy

9939 3293 (but book online)

website

No steps to the door, and I didn’t use the toilets.

There are three fully-formed and terribly-terrible posts in my WordPress drafts folder, some thousand words long each, that I cannot bring myself to post. One is about the recent successful visits I’ve had to the Vegie Bar, another on making new friends as a parent. And lordy, they are boring. I even got bored writing them. The problem is, of course, that I am boring.

Don’t feel you have to reassure me that I am, in fact, glorious and interesting and hilarious, because sometimes I am all of those things, just as you are. Just like how I am so peppy at work you could put me in a grinder, after which I go home and fall on my face on the couch while the Rocket yanks my arm and says, “Mummy, wake up!”, I can occasionally be interesting. But I am not.

This morning, the Rocket slept in until 9 – it sounds amazing, but actually it makes me think she is sick – and then we had breakfast while watching Yo Gabba Gabba, washed our faces, brushed our teeth, got dressed, and read some books. This seemingly brief set of instructions for becoming human in the morning took us two and a half hours. When Teach comes home and night, I tell him all about it. How she took her own socks off. How we pointed at all the different features (eyes, hair – PURPLE hair! – ears, etc) on the unicorn Pillow Pet she inherited from her cousin. How time is no longer what it used to be. We didn’t leave the house until eleven thirty. We walked to our beloved coffee shop, though sometimes I had to carry her and run while she shouted, “RUN! DINOSAUR COMING! ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEBEN NINE DINOSAUR!” We had our coffee and babycino, and when our friends at the cafe asked the Rocket how she was, she spent five minutes talking about how daddy was on a bus, because he caught a bus three weeks ago to go to camp. The conversation goes like this: “Daddy, on a bus. Big bus! Daddy gone. Camp. Bus! Big bus! Toot toot! Daddy gone on bus.” Shuffle those words around until one person in the conversation gets distracted by something else. After we finished our drinks, we walked up to the corner to see if the digger on the empty block of land being cleared was still sleeping (as it had been during the long weekend) or if it was awake. Happily, it was awake, and doing some very nifty digging and moving around of dirt. We spent maybe fifteen minutes there, just watching the digger move dirt. Don’t get me wrong, I find it all very impressive, and one of the workers came over to say hi, and the dude driving the digger waved, and it was all very perfect for the Rocket. Every thirty seconds she would turn to me and say, “Digger not sleeping. Awake!” and then turn back to watching with this serious expression. Eventually my arms got tired from holding her and we waved goodbye and she said, “Yours drive digger!” because she can’t say me or mine or I, and then we walked home, and she told me seventy billion more times that the digger was awake, and while I took off her shoes inside she said, “Yours sleepy,” so I put her to bed, and now I’m writing this. And aren’t you thrilled? Isn’t it so exciting? Gosh, I hope the fight over the movie rights isn’t too violent.

I could probably say something very intelligent about how having a kid can make you stop and appreciate things. And, well, yes, it does. I’d never really just watched a digger do its thing before, and actually, it is very cool. It’s nice to not be in a hurry on days when you don’t have anything planned. But it’s boring. I’m boring. I have no interesting stories. I hate hearing myself speak when Teach comes home and I tell him what we did. I’ve already talked about it a thousand times during the day when I prompt her to think and recall what we’ve done. “Who came over yesterday? Do you remember? You read a book about a boat? And what did you do with daddy? You went on a walk? What snack did he get you?” And then we read the same eleven books we read yesterday, and if I have it in me I put on different voices from yesterday, and rinse, repeat, again, every day, for eternity.

I could, should and will say that I wouldn’t give up these days with her for anything. I am glad I work a couple of days a week, because the break, where I feel like an actually useful member of society with something useful to give and some minimal earning power, means I can appreciate the time I do have with her. And hey, sometimes it’s so exciting and wonderful I can’t even believe it’s my reality; sometimes the beautiful soft moments are exactly what I need. But mostly, I’m boring, I’m so boring I can’t believe that I thought I’d have enough to say in a blog more than once a month, I’m so boring that my own posts put me to sleep, I’m so boring that I can’t even think of a way to end this sentence, or this post. But I’ll hit publish anyway, just to tell you that parents can be boring, and we know it, and we’re sorry, and one day it might end, and we’ll be interesting again, and hopefully have remembered how.

I must have thought, at some point, that the hours between 6-8pm would be easy. That when Teach got home, he would be thrilled to see his family, and would have boundless energy to play; that with my parenting workload halved, I would immediately become twice as fun. Of course, this is not true. Though Teach is, of course, thrilled to see us every night, he is also tired from a day of being shouted at by children and shouting maths back at them. By 6pm I have completely run out of all of my excellent play ideas, I’m tired of telling her she can’t have eighty-six crackers, and if she mashes play dough into my carpet one more time I may just replace her with a play dough baby that is much quieter and just as squishy to hug. So 6-8pm is often spent not at our best: dinner, then sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld reruns, sometimes sliding from couch to floor to interact with the Rocket, who is probably breaking crayons or putting her Sylvanian Families rabbits to sleep in various mysterious places we won’t find for years.

But sometimes, we are excellent parents. Sometimes we have good ideas. After the Rocket became fearful of the dark – “Too dark!” she would wail, even on the journey from car to front door – Teach made the dark into a game, and that game is possum hunting. Melbourne is rife with possums, as long as you have three trees in your street. In my childhood home, there was a possum box in the tree outside my bedroom window, where occasionally I would hear their alarming mating sounds and have terrible nightmares. When I moved out with Teach, our place had possums running along the fence almost daily, and they would eat the fruit we left out for them. In our most recent home, they don’t really come to our house, but in the leafy park near the station, they are often rustling branches around the place. So, armed with a torch, a bike light, jackets and excitement, we started going on possum hunts.

It’s worked amazingly. The Rocket isn’t the least scared of the dark any more. Now she just says, “Quiet, poshum hiding,” if we’re out in the dark. As she runs down the street in her giant parka, she yells, “Poshum! Where are you poshum? Hiding poshum! Come out poshum!” Sometimes she will stop and say, “Shhh, find poshum,” and point up a tree, which will be so still that it’s almost like the wind has stopped just to laugh at her. We go as quietly as we can, listening for shaking branches up ahead. Don’t do this when it’s windy; you can’t find anything then. One of us will hear something, the scratch of leaves, or the fall of a seed on the ground. We’ll pause, shine the torch around, even the Rocket quiet in anticipation. There, maybe, a flash of white belly, or the reflection of their eyes in the light. Sometimes too far away for the Rocket to discern. Sometimes perfectly silhouetted against the stark white limbs of gum trees. Some days, like today, the shaking branch is so close we thought it was a cat, but instead it was a small, beautiful, unafraid ringtail possum, looking out at us, happily eating a leaf, close enough to touch. Instead I took a picture of it on my iPhone, illuminated by Teach’s torch. The Rocket was frozen, clinging to her father’s side like a marsupial baby, staring at it with a smile as wide as could be. We left, not wanting to panic the little creature too much more (and, well, we were also flashing our torches into somebody’s front yard), and went to the petrol station around the corner for snacks and a new Matchbox car for the Rocket. On the way back, we stopped, and it was still there, still eating, still watching us. Teach, after all that, couldn’t resist brushing his hand against its fur. “One of the softest things I’ve ever felt,” he reported in a wistful voice, “Like a baby’s breath.” We went on, wondering if there was any point in going on another possum hunt in the future when they could surely never live up to this. Just around the corner from our house, we stopped by our lucky possum tree, and sitting where the trunk branched into two, was a brushtail possum – the kind you don’t pat if you enjoy having fingers – which watched us from about ten feet up. The Rocket put her arms out and said, “Poshum hug. I come to you poshum! Hug!” Even after we explained that it wasn’t a great idea, she just said agreeably, “Okay. Poshum come here. Poshum hug,” because she does not listen.

Back at home we looked over the pictures and she smiled again. “Poshum ate flower,” she said knowledgeably. “No poshum hug,” she concluded.

No, you shouldn’t hug them. But they can stop you from being scared of the dark.

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