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In case you’re wondering why the roads are quieter and all the kids movies have just come out at the cinema, it’s now school holidays in Victoria. This means Teach is around, so I am a very happy camper: I’ve gone out for lunch with some friends and I didn’t have to shoo away their grabby hands on my food (too much), and brief supermarket visits for two items is less traumatic because one of us can just wait in the car, and all kinds of similar things that I used to take for granted. We usually throw in a few touristy things, though we’ve been slack these holidays – all I can remember of last week is that we went out for donuts a lot – but today we spent the morning at the pool watching eight-year-olds steal all the kickboards and sit on a big pile of them like miniature evil overlords, and after the Rocket’s post-swim epic nap we decided to go and show her the city from the top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere: Eureka Tower. We’d been years before on our own and had a surprisingly great time up there – we even did the Edge Experience, where they send you out in a glass cube and you’re all cool about it until the opaque floor clears and then immediately you know you will fall to your death – so we thought we’d take our little Rocket up there and see what she thought.

It was a beautiful day to be in Melbourne. Sunny, mild, t-shirt weather if you enjoy dressing impractically like I do. We caught the train in, and walked over the Southbank Footbridge which, it turns out, is now covered in love locks. We sat and had snacks by the Yarra, watching the boats and helicopters, and looking fruitlessly for ducks.

To go to the top of the tower is $19.50 per adult, less for kids and nothing for kids under four. The 88-floor ride up lasts thirty-eight seconds (they are the fastest lifts in the southern hemisphere) and your ears pop maybe three times – to the Rocket’s credit, she didn’t seem concerned, but did want to be picked up for the last twenty or so floors. Up there, the views of my beloved city are phenomenal. I could spend hours up there, circling around and rediscovering landmarks from a different angle. We did worry that the Rocket would immediately panic and need to be removed (Teach has had this experience during excursions before), but she wasn’t worried at all, and seemed to enjoy herself very much, and made friends with the stacks of other toddlers that were wandering fearlessly around the place. Her favourite part was the lit-up words on the floor that tell stories and explain which direction is east/west; she spent most of her time walking on them. We didn’t go out on the Edge, as they dramatise the whole thing with loud clanking sounds to make it more scary and effective (which it is), but we did take her to the supremely windy outdoor section, which has an airlock and everything, and which she screamed about as soon as we went through the door. We left, she yelled, “More windy!”, so we went out again, and she yelled, “No windy!” so we went back in, and she yelled “More windy!” so we went back out, and she yelled “No windy!” so we went back in, and the next time she yelled “More windy!” we had finally learned our lesson and just stayed inside. I got a coffee from the tiny little cafe front and it was a) actually very well-priced for tourist-destination coffee and b) pretty lovely, and not even searingly hot so I didn’t have to carry it around awkwardly for an hour, so, good work Eureka barista. There’s a baby change table in the accessible toilets as well, which was handy. We were probably up there for more than half an hour; we watched the sunset and it was just magical.

After we came down, we traversed the path to Crown Casino, passing by fire-twirling and friendly buskers and depleting all our change. Crown is a place I loved when I was a young adult; it was newly built and shiny and so very grown-up, with all the gambling and the booze (though I spent most of my time there either at the arcade, the movies or the Warner Brothers shop that used to be there.) I loved the lights, the opulence, the drama; the one and only time I skipped an entire day of school was to go there and watch Star Wars: Episode 1 (hey so mum if you’re reading this, I totally didn’t, I’m just trying to look cool for my friends). We haven’t gone there much in the years since we became old and uninterested in dropping upwards of seven dollars a night on the pokies, and it had changed – gone was Warner Brothers and candy stores, in was Paspaley and stores with glittering entrances. Still, there were the main ingredients we were looking for: the fountain display just off the hotel’s foyer, which we watched for a while, a food court to supply us with some takeaway felafel kebabs and pizza, and a lovely winding outdoor seating area so we could watch the columns of fire while we ate dinner. Teach and the Rocket went outside while I waited for my food to be cooked, and when I went outside and looked for them, seeing their heads together as they started in on their dinner, illuminated by the lights of the city and the Yarra dark and flowing behind them – I stopped for a moment and just enjoyed it, my little family, out for a little trip in the city.

So we timed our dinner for the flame show on the columns along the Yarra promenade, which was a good idea, until the fire did its most dramatic, big and hot blast whereupon the Rocket burst into immediate and horrified tears, causing everyone around us to laugh affectionately as she wailed, “Mummy hug!” and I held her tight. It happened again, she screamed louder, and so I took her inside until the show stopped and she calmed down, the poor poppet. After we finished eating, and she was feeling better (despite having caused another nearby kid who had coped fine with the fire to burst into tears over her anguish), she and Teach shared an ice cream cone as we meandered back to the station.

We didn’t get home until almost nine o’clock. On the train, she had melted into her father’s arms, rubbed her eyes and asked him to sing her a song, which we do to go to sleep, so he whispered Baa Baa Black Sheep for a while as she lay on his lap. She was sweet and lovely the whole time, and even forgave us the Great Fire of 2014. I know from experience these days very rarely work according to plan – but that just makes a day like today easier to appreciate as it unfurls in front of you.

 

Eureka Skydeck

7 Riverside Quay

Southbank

website

phone: 9693 8888

Recently in a post, I said that parenting gets easier. I believed that at the time, I truly did. But let’s face it; past Fiona is frequently wrong about things, and she was wrong about this.

I yelled at the Rocket today. It had been a tough couple of days – the organisation I’m volunteering with was at a crucial point, Teach came down with a stomach bug, work was full of less-than-stellar customers and the Rocket has developed the most high-pitched squeal ever known to man. Things swing from good to bad quickly: I took the Rocket out for dinner on Sunday night so Teach could rest without someone pelting into the bedroom and yelling “WAKEUP!”, so we went for Indian nearby, which was nice, and then she refused to eat anything but rice, which was a bit annoying, and when I went for our generally failsafe “Just one mouthful and I won’t make you eat any more,” she squealed and spat it out. Yes, great, thanks – lucky we were there before 6pm and thus before any actual customers, but that’s because I’m now afraid to go out where there are other people. Lately that’s all I’ve been getting from her – screaming, “NO!”, whacking, refusal to do anything, eat anything, walk in the right direction, hold my hand, eat dinner, stop eating dinner, loving celery one day and its mortal enemy the next, slapping her hand in lentil bolognese so it flies all over the house, obsessions with one straw that then has to go with us everywhere, and god forbid any of this goes slightly wrong or it’s INCANDESCENT RAGE. Anyway, this morning she ate her cereal with standard terrible mess, and while I cleaned the rest my porridge went cold, and when I finally got to sit down with it I delivered the Rocket some chopped banana at the same time and she yelled, “NO!” and turned it upside-down onto the floor, then threw the plate and squealed.

Camel’s back broken. I yelled at her, loud and fearless. “ROCKET, HOW COULD YOU? THAT WAS NAUGHTY! I AM SICK OF YOU THROWING FOOD AROUND. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? GET DOWN AND PICK THAT UP RIGHT NOW.”

Pretty stellar parenting there. “What is wrong with you?” Well, self, she is two, that’s the problem here, and it’s yours, not hers. I took her out of the high chair to pick up the banana and she couldn’t, because she was crying and saying, “Hug! Hug!” and wouldn’t let go of me. So, not only was it not how I’m trying to parent, but it didn’t even work. She didn’t clean it up like she would’ve (in theory) if I’d calmly put her on the floor and instructed her to help me. It took me even longer to eat my porridge because there was a kid attached to my neck and howling. And as she hiccuped slowly back into a normal breathing pattern, I felt terrible. I did that. I made her feel bad.

This isn’t a post to beat myself up. Sometimes she makes me feel bad too, like when she tells me to go away or that I can’t be doing the fun thing she’s doing with her dad. But when I’m calm with her, she is much more ready to respond with calmness, and when I shout, she responds with heightened emotion and no one gets anywhere. So I probably won’t ever shout again ever, because I live in some kind of reality where everything won’t build up again and I won’t find myself electric with frustration.

To fix myself and her I took her out to the supermarket, which was of course a terrible idea because she insists on carrying the basket and putting random things like giant margarine tubs into the basket, which she can’t carry because I needed to buy soy milk, so she just pushes around slowly, and if I say, “Let mummy help?” she squeals and sends all the elderly people around us to their hearing-aid doctors immediately. Sure, firm hand and all that, right? Well, picking up a screaming baby as well as a heavy basket just doesn’t work, so it just took me twenty minutes to get three things. Frustration was building again, but that’s okay, we were meeting our friend S.

Sometimes I worry – after the fact, anyway – that when I hang out with friends I kind of stand back and let them deal with a lot of it. I disliked that when I wasn’t a parent, because I felt scared and unsure and like I was the one they depended on for life; it’s not like that, because I still have ultimate protection, but it’s just so nice to have someone else get yelled at for misinterpreting her for once. We went home and sent her off for a merry but sadly short nap; after she woke up and ate most of her lunch (though for some of it I had to rub her back, because who the hell knows why), we went to Little Creatures for an hour. Then we dropped S at Canterbury station, and took a little stroll to Canterbury Gardens for a while. There’s no park, but it’s very pretty and there are low-hanging trees. We sat in the rotunda for a while and the Rocket zoomed in circles for a while yelling, “Run round! Run round!”

You know when things are easier? When you can focus entirely on the kid. When you have endless time and patience to sit in a spider-filled rotunda with a toddler telling you which bench to sit on. Then she doesn’t squeal or say no, or break your heart. But you know what’s hard? That exact thing. No errands, no stress, good weather, time – these are not always easy to find. That’s when it’s hard.

We went to a different supermarket on the way home to get stuff for lunch. As we wandered the aisles (we both held a basket handle this time) we encountered a slightly older girl by the pea freezer. We said hi, and the mother said, filled with a familiar tired tone,  “You’re welcome to take her!”

I said, “Aw, but I was going to see if you wanted mine. Maybe we could just put them on the shelves?”

She said, “And then go to the pub!”

We grinned, understanding, then held our daughters’ hands and went on our way. At the checkout, the girl was back, behind us, and a boy in front of us was grabbing a can of Mother as his own mother said, “Of all the things!” and wrestled it off him. As she tried to wrangle her shopping bags and her son, he grabbed a handful of strawberry Mentos packets, and she took it out of his hand – so he grabbed more with the other. (How uncouth. The Rocket usually goes for TicTacs.) She sighed in frustration, and while we all tried to contain our ridiculous and unfair little soul-sucking amazing balls of fun, there was a brief moment where at least I could remember that in all this shouting and crying and feeling like returning her to the cabbage patch, at least I’m not alone.

I’ve always had this kind of building dread for the parties that lie in my future due to the Rocket. Teach and I are not 24 Hour Party People, or, let’s face it, Twice A Year Party People; we tend to celebrate our birthdays with dumplings and a movie. I love people, but I am still a socially awkward penguin who gets nerves before any type of catchup with more than two people, afraid that I’ll say something dorky, or look like a dweeb, or other emotions I should have left behind in primary school. So we’re not good at parties; I don’t know what I’m going to do when the Rocket is old enough to make demands about places and friends, apart from hope that we’re rich enough by next year to pay for a party planner to make some kind of Pirate Astronaut Butterfly Lion Extravaganza. And then there’s attending all these parties; how much do you spend on a present? Does the kid wear a foofy frock? Will all the other mums sit around smoking and judging me on the colour of the Rocket’s hair ties? AM I RIDICULOUS?

The answer to that last question is, always, yes. We were invited to a party for one of the Rocket’s little friends – I’ll call her Curly on account of her amazing hair – and it was a) fun, b) full of normal people, and c) totally something I grabbed the leaflet for on our way out. We went to Lollipops in Forest Hill, a giant, shiny-new play centre that I’d only peeped in at after going to the movies, and which had seemed enormous and terrifying. But we received our invitation, dressed in our nicest climbing outfits (have you tried to climb in a party frock? It does NOT work), and away we went.

It cost us nothing as we were there for Curly’s party, but usual entry fees on a school day run at around $9 for a two-year-old and $3.50, I think, for an accompanying parent. There was a party room set aside specially, with bright colours, cute little chairs, and a special elaborate throne chair for the birthday kid. We kicked off our shoes (and by the way, it’s both a requirement and a good idea that everyone wears socks – they sell them for $3 if you forget them) and dove into the toddler area. Basically everything in Lollipop’s is squishy, so there were some oversized squishy blocks, a squishy castle that led to a slide, a ball-pit underneath, and assorted children to squeal excitedly at. It held her attention for a solid fifteen minutes until she decided to scurry over to the part for the older kids opposite and watch her other friend June go down the super terrifying giant slide with her mother. While I stared in terror, June’s mother told me it wasn’t as bad as it looked, and then led us on an adventure up to the top. And eep! Such fun. I don’t know what I thought was underneath all those foam beams and slides (snakes? spikes?) but it’s just a cleverly built, boxy, multi-level maze of different things to climb and do. Another ball-pit here (the Rocket lives for ball-pits), a few spinny poles there, some clambery ladders, a wheel to spin, stuff to jump over, ropes to climb, swinging bags, stairs, parts to squeeze through – then suddenly BAM, you’re at the top of the slide, and the Rocket’s saying “no slide! no slide!” and you’re all, “It’ll be fine, let’s hold hands,” and then you go down together and as soon as you reach the bottom she yells, “MORE SLIDE!” and runs immediately back into it all.

Over the other side, there’s a spider maze for older kids only; behind that, there’s a noisy and fun part drowning in foam balls, with a variety of air machines which means you can watch the balls float, send them up a pipe to fall into a trough, shoot them out of a cannon, or fire them from some guns up high. I wish I’d taken pictures, but I was too busy enjoying myself.

There’s a huge cafe area for exhausted guardians, with tons of snacks for young and old (veg-capabilities not checked out, but the parties cater for allergies if necessary so you never know.) The party was catered by the centre, and there were a bunch of sandwiches, chips, muffins, fruit, and crackers. (You can pick the healthy option, which Curly’s mother did, or the one that gets you party pies and cocktail franks.) There was water, and Curly’s mother baked some super little chocolate cupcakes and all the children sang and smiled and ate and smeared food everywhere. It was grand. (And, for anyone interested, runs at around $170+for eight kids, and around $15 for any additional kid: more info here.) The Rocket wept when I asked her to eat some rockmelon, but June’s very lovely big sister Belle gave her a hug and kiss to make her feel better, and I felt a thousand times better in turn.

Before we left, I noticed that beyond the sea of high chairs in the cafe, there is a totally real pirate ship ride – one like you see at Luna Park, though obviously scaled down. So basically, we were there for about two hours, and still didn’t explore everything. It was fun for everyone, the birthday girl seemed very pleased with her day, there is basically no way your kid can injure themselves, and – best of all – there is no way for them to escape; when you go in, your kid gets a numbered wristband and you get a card with the same number, and you have to match up when you leave, so no one can run off with your kid. We even got a lollipop on the way out. So, thanks Curly’s mum – you held a party that succeeded in making the Rocket’s very first friend-party a triumph, and now I want to drag Teach back there and shoot him in the butt with some foam balls too.

pretty great picture from the Lollipops website, clearly taken before the children ruined everything with their squalor

Lollipops Playland

Level 3, Forest Hill Chase

Canterbury Road

Forest Hill

website

phone: 9878 1110

two.

This week my little Rocket turned two. I own two baby books with the purest white untouched pages you’ve seen, but I’ve documented her journey from our discovery of her as a sesame seed in my belly to now fairly well online and in a few journals scattered around my house when I needed something non-human to vent or emote onto. A decent amount of the day was spent looking at pictures of her as a tiny baldy baby and a bigger baldy baby and a tiny baldy toddler and then now, as a curly-haired decent-sized toddler-kid. Things were sometimes hard at the start. Sometimes they were boring. Sometimes – well, always – they were tiring. And now, at two, I cannot believe the magical little creature she’s become. Sometimes things are hard, like when she throws her food on the floor and then laughs like an tv-movie villain; sometimes things are boring, like when I have to push her in the swing for four million hours or watch the Space episode of Yo Gabba Gabba because she loves the Rocket Ride song so much; sometimes it is physically demanding but no longer am I tired from lack of sleep, except when I stay up too late watching and making fun of Machete Kills. But oh, she is so much fun, I can’t even tell you. She laughs, she jokes, she hides, she calls my name, she sits on my foot and hangs onto my leg as I haul her around the house giggling, she pours me pretend tea from her tea set, she climbs into her cardboard rocket and peeps out the window saying “hellooo!”, she races her Matchbox cars all over the house, she demands I read her books, she counts to ten without saying eight, she high fives everything she can, she swims, she laughs, she flies in with her arms wide for hugs, she dances, she draws, she picks terrible outfits from her clothes drawers, she hides behind poles that are some five-centimetres wide. She’s the best, even when she refuses to eat my elaborate meals and trashes my house and screeches in frustration when I can’t understand what she’s saying.

For her birthday we celebrated with our family on the weekend; snacks, balloons and hugs in the park. While I was at work the night before, Teach made her a cake, dyed the icing green, then drew train tracks on it with an chocolate pen from Coles. We’d bought her a birthday-themed Thomas the Tank Engine train: a Thomas covered in streamers with a cake on the back. Press the cake, it plays the TTTE theme song. Two candles, two sparklers, and a kiss on the cheek. She chased her cousins around and screamed with laughter.

On the day itself, I was at a bit of a loss in the morning, so I took her to Little Creatures in Balwyn. I hadn’t been back since she could walk, and she had great fun bullying some older kids into sitting where she told them, while they in turn stole toys off her and everyone shouted and cried. Still, such is life at a play centre, and she liked playing in the Duplo room and the house room the best, lugging her wonky-eyed baby doll in its baby carrier over to the Lego car and dropping it head-first into a pile of blocks.

After her nap, she woke up to a few lovely present deliveries from friends and family, which was lovely except you try shoehorning a kid away from her beloved new picnic set to go outside. My folks came over and we went on a fruitless expedition to Cocco Latte (closed for an emergency, but open today when I went back) and Acorn Nursery (closing earlier than I expected, so we slammed down our coffees, looked at the fountains and gave up on parks to head back.)

When Teach got home from work, we decided to go out for dinner, which, let’s face it, was more for us than for her. We went to Chadstone so we could hit up Wagamama – there was literally no one but us there at the start, which meant she was free to shout for a while, but she also got rice everywhere and upended her orange juice on the table, so, you know, good work at acting childish on your second birthday, I mean sheesh. Still, the waiters didn’t mind, my meal was delicious and while we forgot to order a free kids meal they threw in her juice on the house.

Appetites sated, we went to Timezone, because there are lots of bright lights and buttons to press. We got a $20 card and played any game she looked remotely interested in; some we didn’t even have to pay for, like the Dance Dance Revolution-type one where she got up on the platform and danced like crazy with the fun-loving people on screen. She boshed some crocodiles, rode a train, hit some lights, drove a car, went on a rat race, and then scored some bubbles and a miniature basketball with all our tickets. She had a blast; we were happy to see her so happy.

The year before, we’d had a little friend party at a park near work, where the Rocket had just learned how to stand up on her own. This year, we headed to the same park after work for an ice cream in the sun. We sat on the grass near another little girl who crawled excitedly over to see us. It turned out she’d just turned one, and to see her next to the Rocket was incredible – a year in a kid is such a long time. As the kids high-fived each other, the mother said, half-laughing, “Does it get easier?” and like I told her then, it really really does.

So I don’t know about sensible people, but it so happens that the way our finances work is that we spend three weeks a month lamenting that we have to put all our income into rent and blueberries, and then one week when we get paid and throw all of our money around like we are celebrities with lavish lifestyles. I mean, it’s Target clothes, dumplings and new crayons out the wazoo. Crazy times.

So that one week a month is when you’ll find us reasoning that we should go out for lunch and dinner instead of making it at home, and also go out for cupcakes and gelati for dessert, and thus these types of posts are born, and not the ones where I post recipes made up of two-minute noodles and an old can of corn I found in the cupboard.

We’ve been to Yong Green Food before, and continue to wander over there if the mood strikes us, if Teach has a hankering for a dragon bowl or the queues at the Vegie Bar are too alarming. Yong Green Food focuses on wholesome vegetarian (mostly vegan) food, some with a Korean/Asian theme, lots of macrobiotic stuff and a decent range of raw options if that’s your thing. The prices aren’t particularly cheap but the servings are lavish and the food always good, so it’s worth what you pay.

I ordered the buckwheat crepes with mushrooms and some kind of tasty dressing (sadly Yong’s has no website for me to check and I have no brain for remembering ingredients – maybe wasabi but I don’t think it was hot?), along with a bowl of miso soup. The crepes were absolutely gorgeous as per usual and look super fancy on the plate; the miso was fine, but not as amazing as Wagamama’s, though the tofu in the soup is much tastier than anywhere else I’ve tried. Teach unsurprisingly ordered a dragon bowl with soy beef, and had to skimp on the super spicy sauce that is served alongside it as he correctly predicted that the Rocket would shout at him to share his rice and he didn’t want to set her on fire. We’d dragged our friend Dani along with us and she ordered a burger; it was ENORMOUS, and she has a pretty small appetite at the best of times but still put a fair dent in it. The Rocket enjoyed my miso soup more than anything, and they had a high chair for her which made life easy with all of our plates and dinosaur sandwich boxes everywhere. The service is always friendly (they forgot Teach’s drink but flew it to him when he pointed it out afterwards), the food arrives speedily, the staff smile at kids and I always leave feeling tremendously healthy and ready to go gorge myself on cupcakes until I am sick.

Yong Green Food

421 Brunswick St

Fitzroy

phone: 9417 3338

 

More than a year ago, when all of our kids were still too young to walk, my mothers group took our pile of children to Ruffey Park. On the Victoria Street side, there’s an adventure playground, barbecues, a set of very shiny toilets; we were impressed. But kids who can’t walk don’t really enjoy parks that much; we sat under the shade of a tree, threw a pile of toys in the middle and let them Battle Royale it out on our picnic rugs. We always went to parks when our kids were tiny, just to sit in the grass and swap stories and breastfeed and not actually touch the playground equipment, because don’t you know swings are DANGEROUS? I remember those times fondly, distant memories where our children couldn’t run off at high speed in different directions halfway through an important and meaningful conversation with another mother. I enjoy my time with the Rocket more now that she has an attitude, but I probably haven’t finished a sentence out loud with my mother-pals for about ten months. (At least they understand.)

Then, at their first birthday bonanza, while they were all precariously balancing and taking tiny steps, we met at Ruffey Lake Park again, with all children and bonus fathers, this time on the other side, coming in off the Boulevard. That park is for younger kids, but even then, none of us really tried out the equipment (I heard that someone broke BOTH LEGS *AND* THEIR KIDS’ LEGS going down a slide together!), too busy, anyway, playing with all our new birthday toys. But it planted a seed, and we’ve met there at least ten thousand times since.

Playgrounds are interesting, the way they completely change in size and terror measurements. The first time I went to Ruffey for a proper, actual play, I followed the Rocket around waiting for her to injure herself; the distance from the top of the slide to the ground if you didn’t go down the slide itself (and only on your belly, in case your shoe stuck and you flipped over and fell), was at least three metres, surely. The swings were too high off the ground. The step up to the little wooden cubby house was too high. Those rope ladders – couldn’t she get stuck? What if a kid kicked her in the face when they spun around on those tall poles? And the moving bridge. She’ll fall over immediately, obviously. All these other kids around the place – don’t their parents KNOW that it’s dangerous?

I don’t even consider myself that much of a helicopter parent. I let the Rocket take risks and try to help herself when she’s stuck or tangled, but I have my limits of where I feel too anxious to continue. I have friends who are much braver and I have endless admiration for their ability to let kids run free and figure stuff out, and I have friends who always help out their kids in sticky situations, and I love them for the way they’ve shown their kids that they’re always there. I’m not critical either way. Neither type of parenting is conducive specifically to raising a monster or an angel. We do what we’re comfortable with, and that’s super okay. I stretch the boundaries of my comfort, when I can.

This picture is from maybe six months ago – I tried to be very forgiving as she stomped in mud gleefully and became completely covered, because I am a complete hater of getting dirty and it’d be nice for the Rocket if she wasn’t as precious as I am.

Ruffey Lake Park is beautiful, and big. In fact, I’ve been to both park sides and wandered aimlessly but have yet to encounter the actual lake itself, though there are probably ducks and the Rocket would probably flip right out about that. It’s bushy, with lovely tall trees everywhere, and running tracks. There is a lot of space, and little interesting park additions: metal stands that could pass for bins but that actually make animal sounds when you pass, a water pump, flying foxes, bridges to nowhere, things to bang and make noise with. There’s a sunshade over the playground, and the aforementioned cubby house, and swings and slides and all kinds of traditional things. It’s a park. You know the drill.

I went again, last week, three days in a row. Once with my friend S (who took a couple of these accompanying pictures), once on my own, and once with my friend F and her son, whom the Rocket calls Hammy because no two-year-old can pronounce their friends’ names right. It had been a while since I’d been – pre-Christmas, at least – and I noticed something about the park: it had shrunk. I don’t know why the council made everything slightly smaller, but they did. The distance from the top of the slide to the ground was shorter than I was, because I could reach up and give my daughter a kiss as she stood proudly at the top deciding which way to go down. I didn’t worry that she would catapult directly off the side of the equipment where you slide down the pole; I thought that she’d probably realise she couldn’t get down, and would head for the slide. She had a go at the rope ladder, went into the cubby house and made some friends. She helped another little girl up the steps to the slide. A magpie stole a cracker right out of her beautiful little hand, and she cried for a brief moment, accepted my hug, then realised there was a DOG RIGHT OVER THERE, so who cares if a magpie stole your cracker? (FYI if they weren’t so fast I would’ve punched that magpie right in the face, because I don’t believe in animal cruelty, unless said animal is mean to my kid.)

We call these things “weeble-wobbles”, because everything is baby talk now. Or “waby wawk”, as it is known as of right now. Notice the tucked-in t-shirt is so she doesn’t get slide-burn on her skin. Practical, yet not at all stylish.

I asked the Rocket if she wanted to go over to the big mountain of slides; F hesitated with Hammy, as they are much longer slides, and the climb to get there is complicated. I knew exactly why she was worried – for the same reason I had been just two days earlier – and suggested we go anyway, as a mother team: one at the top, getting the kids up there, one at the bottom to catch them. She walked up the side, looked down at us and said, “You know, this isn’t as tall any more.”

May this campaign to make playgrounds smaller, month by month, never stop.

Slide mountain: you climb up to get there. If you’re two, you might try to climb up the steep side and fall directly on your ass, and your grown-up might laugh at you.

Ruffey Lake Park

King Street, George Street and Victoria Street, Doncaster

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Ugh, summer. I mean, sure, who doesn’t like to go to the beach or eat ice cream on the porch, but not every day can be spent driving for an hour while your kid screams for food (“NACKYYYY!”) so you can go to the beach only to have them say, “No water. NO WATER!” Likewise ice cream probably shouldn’t be an everyday food. You gotta mix that up with icy poles every now and again. Anyway, all but one day this upcoming week is going to be over thirty degrees, and tomorrow is FORTY degrees, and one of the things that always collapses in my family on hot days is the idea of dinner. Who wants to turn on an oven or stand over a pot of boiling water? No one, that’s who, and so when it gets hot we don’t always eat spectacularly well. Pies and salad, maybe, pico di gallo if we’re feeling super lazy. But one of my favourite things to make when it’s hot is my soba noodle salad, adapted from the delicious one I frequently order when we go to the Vegie Bar; mine is not quite as delicately flavoured, but at least I’m much more generous with the cherry tomatoes.

Serves 2ish.

Soba Noodle Salad

dried soba noodles (I get them in a pack that has three handfuls banded separately; I use all three.)

cherry tomatoes (as many as you desire, cut into halves or quarters)

couple of spring onions, mostly the green parts, cut diagonally. or however you like, I’m not the boss of you.

1 avocado, diced

decent handful of snow peas, halved or diced or whatever

1/2 packet of Japanese teriyaki marinated tofu, in 2cm cubes. I mean sure you could marinate your own, but that’s not how we roll in this house.

tbsp-ish of sesame seeds, toasted in your frypan

A few splashes of soy sauce

A couple shakes of sesame oil

___

Basically, you boil the soba noodles – it only takes about four minutes – then rinse them under cold water. Throw everything else in and shake over the sauce and oil. It’s cold, it’s amazing, I would eat it every day if I could. It doesn’t last spectacularly well overnight, but it’s pretty straightforward to cook again the next day if, perhaps, you want it again. Which I do.

Another good thing about this dish is that it’s easy, when deconstructed, to give to the Rocket. I slice the snow peas into long strips (sometimes she eats them, mostly not though), quarter the tomatoes, dice up the tofu, add some avocado, and pile on some noodles. She loves it. We love it. Everyone loves it! I even had a request to bring it to a Lunar New Year potluck, though I had forgotten to adapt it for those guests who couldn’t eat avocado. But secretly, you know, more for me.

What other good hot-day foods do you like? Pre-veg we always had zaru soba, where you have a big heap of soba noodles and you dunk them in your bowl of zaru soba sauce along with a swish of wasabi and some spring onions. It was heaven, but we have yet to make our own vegetarian sauce (we used to buy it from our friendly neighbourhood Asian grocery, though haven’t found a pre-made brand without fish in it), though I’ve seen recipes online. When we were in Japan in summer we ordered it everywhere, and I miss it. Here is a picture of zaru soba to break up this post, because I never take pictures of food. Also, in my salad above, the avocado inevitably goes mushy when tossed and makes everything look a little unsexy.

Thanks, ifood.tv!

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