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by Davina Bell & Allison Colpoys

Social anxiety is an unspoken problem that, when actually spoken of, happens in some degree to almost everyone I know. For some, it’s a slight buzz of discomfort before going to a party. What if everyone is mean? What if I’m wearing something stupid? What if I say something stupid? (And then, afterwards: that thing I said? Oh god, everyone thinks I’m a monster now, don’t they?) For others, it means they can’t leave the house at all. But, dear reader, how long did you think you spend thinking you were the only one who had these thoughts? The knowledge that you’re not alone may not, in itself, cure you like some mystical potion, but it’s still a little beautiful piece of information that can make situations seem less overwhelming. People sometimes recommend looking at a crowd you’re in front of and imagining them all in their underpants. It also helps to imagine all the people in the crowd just before they arrived, in front of a mirror, saying to themselves: you got this event. You sit in your seat and you’ll be fine. Just don’t cross your legs or it’ll make your dress squinch up.

Anyway, this meandering thought process leads me to review a book I received recently from a publisher (because I work in a bookstore and what it lacks in six-figure incomes it makes up for in amazing free things I didn’t even know I needed to read.) The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade is a gorgeous book made up of only a few colours: orange, shades of blue and grey and, on the cover, a shimmering silver. It’s about a boy named Alfie who is about to attend a fancy dress parade as Captain Starfish, but the night before, he gets that feeling in his tummy. You know it, don’t you? You feel sick. Are you coming down with something? Oh no, maybe you won’t have to do that anxiety inducing thing because of a legitimate reason like legitimate totally real illness that you’re about to come down with? Anyway, when Alfie wakes up he tells his mother he can’t be Captain Starfish, after all, so she takes him instead to meet someone else who needs to hide away sometimes: a beautiful little orange clownfish with fins like butterflies. And maybe, next year, Alfie thinks he could be something else in the Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade.

It’s an interesting book in that it discusses anxiety without either demonising it or fixing it with a magic wand. Alfie feels anxiety strongly and has for a long time; his parents offer support and help (and do not tell him off like Future Me possibly would when frustrated with Future Rocket because even though I frequently feel the challenge of anxiety myself, I am also a parent who needs to work on her patience.) The ending offers a gentle nudge of hope but does not see Alfie (unrealistically) suddenly parading in front of a giant crowd. It’s a book ripe for discussion: what will he do next? Do you feel that way?

The Rocket’s a little bit too young and literal to fully get the entire worth of this story at the moment—at this point she mostly barrels headlong and screaming into new situations, but she does feel nervous around new people—but it’s still a story that is a small delight to read even if you are a bit young to understand the concept, and I’m glad to have it so she grows older with an idea of what anxiety is and that it is never, ever just you. Regardless of her age (very nearly three!), she enjoyed it so much on a recent read that she had to take it off me every few pages and explain to me what was happening and count things on the page and tell me what animals were what. Teach, listening to me reading it during the same read, said thoughtfully: “I think maybe I should take this to school tomorrow and read it to my class.” He teaches eleven and twelve year olds, so that’s a good indication of who should read this book: basically everyone. Besides, it’s sweet and tender and shiny, has a divine cover and one of my favourite book spines to pick out. And any book with a penguin driving a bus is a-ok with me.

amor mexico

This Sunday, my oldest friend Rachael came down to stay, the first time she’s slept over at my house since sometime in high school. She lives two hours away now and we don’t see each other often, but whenever we do it’s like it was when she lived around the corner from me when we were four years old, and we ate candy and watched tv and didn’t talk about boys because Teach was in the room, but we would have, believe me. Anyway, so we’re vegetarian and she is most definitely not, and one of the easiest places to deal with such situations is a good Tex-Mex joint. Not too far away from us in Forest Hill is Amor Mexico, a cheerful bright place with stellar service and good food, and they note on the menu that they’re happy to adapt food for allergies, and they mean it. This is only the second time we’ve been there, and they already remembered the Rocket and didn’t bat an eyelid when I ordered the vegetarian La Combinacion without any cheese.

There’s a little dedicated corner with some Duplo, books and toys, and they brought the Rocket a jar of pencils and a page to colour while she was waiting. (In that picture above, she’s not bored, just concentrating real hard.) She had rice and part of an enchilada for dinner, then sat quietly on the floor letting us completely ignore her while the rest of us finished our food. And it’s good, hearty fare, lotsa frijoles and hard-shell tacos and rice and, well, you know the drill. Like last time, I ordered the strawberry virgin margarita and made everyone jealous because it is DELICIOUS.

It’s made it swiftly onto my list of Nearby Restaurants To Take Friends (along with Vegie Hut and basically nowhere else in the eastern suburbs), because I love hanging out with friendly people and they are the friendliest, and they give out free corn chips with salsa when you arrive. Not even my favourite friends do that. NOT YET, ANYWAY, RIGHT GUYS? *pointed glare*

 

Amor Mexico

13 Mahoneys Rd

Forest Hill

ph: 9878 9508

website

flowercumbers

You know what? I have countless pictures in my phone of things I’ve tried to take note of so that I can share them with you, dear readers. And you know what the only think I can think of is when I actually have forty-five seconds spare to write something? The only thing I can share with you? Flowercumbers. It’s not even a real word. It’s just that I finally cut cucumber slices into flower shapes and then suddenly, instead of wailing at cucumbers like they were death sticks as per usual, suddenly she eats them.

Man, I am up for so much advice on this. I read Green Eggs and Ham to her and thought that it would be genius to make Green Spaghetti, aka pasta (which she will eat Everest-sized mountains of) covered in pesto. But no. Now when I say, “What do you want for dinner?” sometimes she will say “Pasketti!” but when she does she always follows it up with a serious expression and, “But not green pasketti, mama.” I contemplated putting food dye into her spaghetti water the other day to mix it up but then remembered the point was actually food variety and not changing the colour of a food she already eats without problem. All she wants in life is rice and babycinos.

Anyway! I got the Rocket to review a book for me, here! I had to bribe her by saying “You could help mama do work, and then you could get paid! In books!” and then I had to buy her a new Hairy Maclary book, but it was worth it to get the recording of her little voice on my phone babbling on about blue collars, and also the author tweeted it to his followers so therefore, I am famous, clearly.

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.

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