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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

website

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Having an almost-two-year-old is a delight at the moment. Seriously, my daughter is funny; she hides, she dances, she waves at every ant we meet. She talks (“Snack? MORE SNACK! PLEASE!” which let’s face it is basically like my own internal voice is now happening out loud), can count (“two, two, two, two, three, four, two, two, five, two,”) and sleeps for just enough hours during the day for me to read Reddit until my eyes bleed out of my face. Better still, she goes to sleep, with usually minimal complaining, sometime around eight o’clock. It’s just dandy.

UNTIL CHRISTMAS. Because I utterly and shamelessly adore fairy lights, which as you may know, come out in force at Christmas, and as you also may know, only really work at night. Which, as you still also may know, does not occur during daylight savings until sometime after nine. Which, as the Rocket does not know, comes after eight.

WHAT DO? Am I a bad mother for keeping her up late and showing her Christmas lights? Or am I a worse mother for NOT keeping her up late and showing her Christmas lights? Is this not really a serious problem? PROBABLY.

Well, the problem was inadvertently helped the other night when Teach and I thought it was very smart to do some late night present shopping at Doncaster. It was only half smart; we couldn’t get all our presents done due to some kid who did not want to be in a pram. We took it in turns watching her at the playground while the other dashed off to find things, and as less kids were out she didn’t get bitten at the feral playground in front of Big W, which was a nice change. Anyway, a few haphazard gifts and a trip to Snag Stand later, it turned out it was nine o’clock which probably explained her rising temper. We packed her in the car, rolled out of the car park and then realised it was this mysterious thing known as “dark”. With the Rocket happily kicking the back of my car seat, we thought it was a fortuitous time to show her some lights, so we ambled over to the vaguely nearby Van Unen Court in Doncaster, which has a couple of totally amazing homes (and a website!). To my surprise, the Rocket stayed awake – I thought she’d conk straight out – but was very pleased to get out and look at everything. There were a few people happily chatting, and one house had a top window projection that showed Santa getting all his stuff together. Many inflatables, lots of flashing lights, great success.

After getting in the car, Teach thought maybe we could try and make it to The Boulevarde in Ivanhoe, Melbourne’s premier Christmas light location. We’d never been, and there are signs even on the Eastern Freeway warning of traffic jams in the neighbourhood, so I thought it was probably going to be unsuccessful and besides, I said smugly, SURELY the Rocket would fall asleep before we got there. Well, she did not. And boy, The Boulevarde is something else, not least because it’s so popular that they sell flashing paraphernalia, ice cream, coffee, and have set up a St John’s Ambulance van too. (“For all the seizures,” the teenager behind us wisely mused.) As Ivanhoe is a wealthy area, some of those house are completely nuts. Entire Christmas scenes. Moving figures comparable to the Myer Christmas windows. Endless carols. The Rocket was thrilled, and spent the whole time saying, “Wow” and “Nice”, which is an understatement but then she doesn’t have any more hyperbolic words than those just yet. (I’ll work on “amazeballs” for New Year’s Eve.) So that night, she didn’t get to sleep until just before 11pm.

The next night, we decided to go with the flow and went into the city proper, crashing briefly into and out of a Christmas party just long enough to wave at our friends and steal a can of lemonade. Outside, we decided to try the Myer Christmas Windows again – it’d been too busy when we last attended – and it remained pretty crowded, so we stood behind the queue with the Rocket on her dad’s shoulders and watched it that way. At the other end, George Kamikawa – one of Melbourne’s best buskers – was playing, and the Rocket dropped some coins into his case, then danced so much to his guitar that one of the onlookers gave her his Santa hat, which she fetched and made me put on instead. It was actually really lovely; the Rocket was stomping happily and making those around her smile, and it was a complete buzz – I made that! That little girl that’s making people smile on Bourke Street a week before Christmas! Corny, but there you have it; tis the season for ridiculous emotions, after all.

Picture from the Myer windows gratuitously stolen from au.timeout.com, because I forgot to take any pictures myself and wanted at least one to illustrate this particularly wordy post.

Once we had danced and clapped ourselves out, we left, returning the Santa hat to its friendly and rightful owner, and encountered a tinsel-covered fire engine which parked outside Myer and took overexcited kids on tours inside the truck. Firefighters handed out lollipops and bags of candy to the public, and I was completely happy with my city for putting on such a show. On our way back to the car, Hardware Lane had its lights up and shining, and the Rocket was awash with wonder. (And for the record, that night she went to sleep at 9:30. Tonight – the night after – she was still screaming “MORE BOOK!” at 9pm, so, only minor regrets.)

So this is a long essay that is just here to say: it was worth it, to keep my toddler awake. Seeing her blink at all the bells and shine and excitement is one of the things I’d always wanted to do as a parent, and I am so very glad we decided to go with it. Maybe she won’t remember it, but then maybe she went to sleep and dreamed about them that night. Or, maybe, she’s not as ridiculously sappy as her mother.

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Earlier this week Teach went off for a few days on school camp. Which, you know, fun for him (turns out all teachers I speak to love going on camp, I always imagined it was a nightmare for them) but annoying for ME, as this meant three whole days in which I had to change every single nappy, get up for all the night yelling, and could not blame the trashed state of the kitchen on him. Terribly sad, etc. However, I found people who would at least occupy my days, and on Monday I bothered my parents all day (I didn’t get a picture but hot damn the playground in Knox City shopping centre is a great one and it has a FENCE to trap kidskies in), and on Tuesday my friend S came over and stayed until dinnertime. We knocked up a pasta for lunch – our go-to recipe is basically pasta, spinach, dukkah, sun-dried tomatoes – and then drove to Balwyn to bash about in Beckett Park.

I’ve been once before with my mothers group, but it’s not great for crowds of kids as they all run off to different places and let’s face it, 83% of the point of mothers groups is hanging out with other adults, so when you have to run off after your kid it defeats the purpose a little. Anyway, when it’s just your kid, it’s a bunch of fun. There’s a tiny in-ground trampoline for bouncing, a wooden maze that even I could find my way out of (and I am terrible at all mazes), lots of wooden ramps and pathways, four swings (including two side-by-side baby swings for those with twins!) and a big-ass sandpit with two of those ride-on scooper things. Also it has a table, see above. Beckett Park’s actually pretty great – there are toilets, heaps of space to run around, a viewing tower (padlocked and with no note, WHAT IS THE DEAL BOOROONDARA COUNCIL) and an indigenous flora reserve. We didn’t make it to the flora, alas, too busy chasing dogs and patting all the wooden sculptures in artistic appreciation.

After an hour and a half, we were burnt out on playgrounds (Rocket was NOT and threw an appropriate tantrum) and went off for a quick poke around in the new nearby organic supermarket Apples & Sage (no website yet, located on Whitehorse Road between Balwyn Road & the Safeway.) Holy shit, this place has everything a health person/junky vegan/etc could desire – meatless pizza, chick’n & cheeze pies, everything else you’ve ever seen or imagined. All not even particularly comparatively expensive, though S and I were a bit skint so we passed up any purchases though I was pretty pleased to know it exists and will totally return and buy pretty much everything.

For dinner we went to Vegie Mum in Doncaster – we’ve been a couple of times and it’s always been a success. Vegie Mum is a Chinese/Malaysian vegetarian restaurant, and serves up a bunch of mock meats and vegetable dishes. The decor and atmosphere isn’t incredible, but the service is always grand: they’re lovely to the Rocket and have a pile of high chairs, the staff are friendly as anything, and the food arrives at speed. This time, I ordered a laksa for myself ($10), and a plate of fried tofu ($4.50) for the Rocket, along with some rice (usually $2 but I think they charged us less for the small bowl.) S got tea, spring rolls and some other noodle dish I can’t remember and didn’t try because my laksa was far too delicious and I could barely spare some concentration on my daughter as she got rice all over clothes and her hair (but to her credit mostly did a vaguely good job.) S kindly shared some of her noodles (mine were too spicy) and the Rocket was generally very pleased with the whole scenario, especially when she got to dump a cup of water over herself too. (SIGH.)

I didn’t take any pictures of my food, because I have fallen out of the habit due to, uh, not blogging in months (which, mild excuse, is because I now also blog over here!) but my Laksa was a perfect kick of chilli in gorgeous coconut broth, with beans, noodles (ask for the egg ones to be swapped out for rice), eggplant, tofu, chicken, prawn and pork. Turns out I like fake prawn more than real, and I ate stacks of it, and BEST YET, when I was almost done I found SNEAKY HIDDEN PORK AND PRAWNS, praise be. Writing about it is making me a little dribbly so I best stop now.

…well, just after a quick smooch to my olderiest friend Rachael who prompted me to write again. xx

Beckett Park

the end of Parring Rd

Balwyn

Vegie Mum

27 Village Ave

Doncaster

ph: 9816 3222

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playdays

How any parent ever blogs more than once every three months I’ll never know. Yes, maybe they are people who spend their childrens’ naptimes doing useful things like, well, blogging, instead of looking at Drunk Baby in Las Palmas on their phones or doing difficult-with-baby multitasking things like eating chips and reading books at the same time. But blogging requires much more braining than I am usually capable of, but I am trying to get into a habit of doing it just before I go to sleep, when my brain is surely at its peak, right? (zzzzzzz.) This week’s drama is that the Rocket has finally cut her first tooth, and by cut, I mean she has been sad and angry about it, and also I mean that little fucker is sharp. Who thought that was a good design idea? Putting something like a serrated knife into the gums of a creature that breastfeeds? But I’m (painfully) off-topic.

Since the Rocket and her friends have become mobile it’s become much trickier to meet up as a mothers’ group. We used to go to cafes to inhale coffee and exhale angsty stories of woe, but now the kids are too wiggly and are not particularly interested in sitting on our laps for two hours while we badmouth them. (I’m kidding. They’re great.) So we’ve been throwing out new ideas for places to meet, and when it was too rainy for the park recently, one of my pals came up with Playdays. There are places like this everywhere, I suspect: a huge indoor place where you dump your kids and they go bananas with the brightly coloured New Things everywhere. But I’d never been inside one until now, and they are both alarming and awesome.

Playdays in Doncaster is much bigger than my terrible picture makes it look, and costs about $6 for a kid between the ages of 6 months and 2 years (it’s $1 for babies under 6 months, $9 for 2-6 year olds and parents are always free). Our kids were too young for most things–it’s really geared to an older market–but they had fun, and there’s lots of space to roll/crawl/sit/lie in, and ball pits for the adults to lose their jewellery in, and a bouncy castle. For older kids there are heaps of cubby houses and slides and little cars and all kinds of stuff. For adults, there’s coffee and snacks. There are lots of high chairs. Only one of us hit the change room, and reported that it was stinky and not excellent. Nevertheless, we have returned and will again, because it’s a great idea. We kind of just piled our kids in a circle, dumped a couple of toys on them (their favourite collective thing to do is chew on each others’ things) and let them share, or not share if you are Rocket. (I am GOOD at sharing, so this is a habit I will try and stop her from continuing.)

I’m really eternally grateful for places that are just a huge indoor space, and wish that there were more–I’ve now developed a fantasy in which I become rich and create an indoor park, so that there’s grass and trees but you can go there when it’s raining or when it’s forty-one degrees like, oh, say, yesterday was. (Incidentally, my new house is an igloo, thank you very much excellent new air conditioner.) There are other options we may explore in the future, like community houses where you pay per term, but as we all prefer the park it might not be worth it, unless of course winter does surprising things like Have Rain and Be Cold.

My only advice is that you really need to keep an eye on your kid in these places. Seems obvious, yes, but they might do things like be over-friendly (one kid introduced himself to all of us, then tried to sit on my friend S’s lap) which is fine unless that is not your thing, or be, you know, a kid (one was furiously tearing along in his plastic car and didn’t realise he was about to barrel straight into a crawling baby until the baby’s mother snatched him out of the way. I can’t tell if it would have ended badly or not, because I am a New Mother and thus basically irrational when it comes to Things Hurtling At Small Children, and apparently also Capital Letters.)

Playdays

350 Blackburn Rd

Doncaster

9842 8844

website

There’s a ramp to get in, but I have a vague recollection of a heavy-ish door.

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haveli

Friday morning saw Teach, the Rocket and myself waiting patiently at the hospital’s fracture clinic to see how his arm was healing (surprisingly well for someone determined to pretend his arm isn’t broken and continue flinging it around), then shipping him back to school for the afternoon. The Rocket and I, never ones to spend a single minute at home at the moment apparently, went straight to the station to pick up Steph, who was over my side of town and willing to be chauffeured to east side (imagine me throwing gang signs) haunts. First stop was Haveli, an Indian restaurant tucked away in a shopping square, where we had lunch. It’s also the first time I’ve taken the Rocket to a place that could be classified as a restaurant, in that it was sedate and had proper silverware and not truckloads of loud customers (like the Vegie Bar, for example). I was a bit nervous, but at least we were eating at a place with takeaway containers in case she did lose her shit and howl the entire time.

She didn’t. She sat quietly beside me and read Dear Zoo, then started to get a little shirty so I mashed up some of my peas and fed them to her, and then she was super happy. While it was physically difficult for me to eat my food around her because she was DESPERATE to get her fingers in my curry, I can’t fault her for being pretty good. She did throw her toys on the floor a bit but I blame her shameful lack of fine motor skills (I mean she’s seven months old, she should be able to play classical piano by now, right?) and not deliberate naughtiness. The waiter very kindly picked things up when she dropped them and seemed quite interested in watching her eat, which she does with full body excitement, arms flapping and panting and squealing all thrilled. Anyway, you are probably bored by now, so: the food! We ordered aloo palak (potatoes and spinach) on my request, bhindi masala (okra cooked with tomatoes, onion, ginger and spices) on the Australian Veg Food Guide‘s request, and vegetable biryani (rice cooked with saffron and vegetables) on Steph’s request.

Look, I say good things about everywhere I go because I just really like eating, but I totally enjoyed Haveli. The aloo palak was awesome, with a tasty green sauce and potatoes perfectly cooked to a firm but easily-forked-in-half consistency; the bhindi masala was hot but not too hot, and pretty good; the vegetable biryani was a great accompaniment, especially because it came with the peas I mashed for the kiddo. Of course, we also got roti because well why wouldn’t you, and it was warm and thick and easily torn and just, well, what a really nice meal. So on the upside, good food, good service, and probably the best vegan-friendly Indian near me (or in general? Happy to get more info on this particular subject); on the downside, it’s far too hard to eat with a kid on your lap, it was a bit too fancy if she did start to get stripey. Steph didn’t think she’d make the trek out to Doncaster to have it, but luckily for me I’m pretty close by so I’d probably come back if I found myself in need (NEED) of Indian, especially now that the supreme Vegetarian Nirvana in Richmond has closed down, taking my channa masala with it.

Afterwards, we went to Doncaster Shoppingtown again, had more Joy cupcakes (Steph declared the polenta cupcakes CHEWY, so we are NO LONGER FRIENDS) and grabbed a coffee, the baby was cute and we all lived happily ever after, the end.

Haveli Indian Restaurant

32 Tunstall Square

Doncaster East

9842 9375

website

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