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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

on making new friends

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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on bad days

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.

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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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on immunisations

Okay, just to be clear, this isn’t a post about the pros and cons of vaccinating your kid. Just do it, so that we can all not die. Great.

Anyway, so taking your kid to get their immunisations is about the most heartbreaking thing you can do. That first time, you take your tiny, titchy little baby–some potatoes are bigger than that baby–to a clinic (or your doctor; we always went to the public immunisations at our local maternal health centre) and you let someone jab it with needles until it cries. You did that, you monster! You let someone hurt your baby! Will they ever forgive you? Will they forever remember that you did that to them?

No. They will not. They love you. It’s okay. You are panicking more than they are. You really are.

So, in these public clinics, you walk in, take a number, wait, get nervous about your kid getting hurt. (Don’t forget, they have no idea what’s going on and are thrilled to be in a different place with new and freshly disgusting toys.) After a while, they call your number, get your kid’s health book, stamp some things, and send you into the next room. There are chairs, and a screen. Behind that screen, there are children who are yelling. On the chairs, there are children who are calming down. A health professional will appear from behind the screen and summon you in. Then there are needles and it’s a reality. Hold on, guys, it’s almost over. You’re doing fine. Your kid still has no idea what’s happening. Last time, the Rocket tried to grab the needle herself. Then, generally, one parent holds the baby, immunisations are administered (oral! needles! both! then another needle!) and if you can help it, don’t watch that giant needle go in your baby’s tiny fat thigh. Also, don’t watch their face transform from happy to distressed. Just look elsewhere. When the baby is good and hysterical, pass it onto the other parent for a hug. You are basically good cop/bad cop at immunisations. Except that sometimes it ends in a nurturing breastfeed, and that probably doesn’t happen often on Law & Order. (I could be wrong. There are a lot of episodes.)

As they get older, there are different tricks. The Rocket recently had her eighteen-month immunisation, which was just one jab in the arm. As soon as we sat down, the nurse gave her a swirly stamp on her right hand. The Rocket was as excited as is physically possible to be, and the nurse said to me, “Right. When I tell you, stamp her other hand with this flower stamp.” On the count of three, I stamped, the needle went in. The Rocket was again thrilled by her stamp. She paused and looked at her shoulder, then went back to looking at her stamp. Not a peep. No rage. Nothing. We went back outside to sit in those chairs for fifteen minutes–to wait and make sure there’s no adverse reaction–and played with the new things we bought her to make it up to her that we’d just caused her deliberate physical pain. She didn’t care, though she happily shared some of her space stickers with a new friend she made, then she and the friend nicked some other kid’s iPad and watched Charley Bear (a terrible, horrible, no good very bad show). Then, when we put her in the car to go home, we accidentally pinched her with the belt buckle. Then she cried.

There is no real point to this post. Immunisations are awful and necessary. Teach gets very anxious about them; I barely muster up any stress until I see the needles. The Rocket has held a grudge against me about a PlayDough incident that last longer than any immunisation-based grudges. They are horrible. And you are doing a marvellous thing.

A wild Immunisation Monster appears.

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So I like to take the Rocket out for coffee. (Now that she is nineteen months old and slightly coordinated, I get her a babycino, though she needs help scooping froth and when left to her own devices to drink the milk at the end she just pours it over her face and then laughs maniacally.) Sometimes, even, I take her out for lunch or even dinner. I try and do convenient things like go places when they are quiet, or sit outside where I won’t ruin as many people’s peaceful afternoons, but, also, it’s the world we live in so sometimes the other people in it are loud, dribbly and have terrible table manners, and sometimes there are children too. However, I don’t really like my coffee date shattered by an ear-piercing squeal either, so I try many things to calm her down. Obviously, there’s food, and I usually carry a bunch of snacks (blueberries and sultanas are a perennial favourite), but sometimes she will say no (SWAPPED AT BIRTH?) so I have to have a backup plan. Well, many. But one of the most successful distractions was one I gathered from my friend Other Fiona, who met me for a coffee once at Acorn Nursery and thwarted an attempted tantrum of the Rocket’s by passing over six Duplo blocks stacked in a tower. She took them apart, she put them together. Rinse, repeat. Tantrum averted. I went home, immediately gathered six of our own Duplo blocks, and they have never left my side since. She LOVES to do this. I mean, sometimes she’s not in the mood, because BABIES WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, but she frequently is. Add pockets to her clothes where she can hide them, and you have MINUTES of freedom in which to drink your coffee.

Why six pieces? Because if you are there with a friend and they are jealous, then you can share your blocks EQUALLY, because probably nineteen-month olds can do division?

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You’ve probably heard that there’s been a birth in England. I mean, some 730,000 babies are born there each year, but they can’t all make the news. This one has: a waving little baby boy, currently unnamed, who will one day be the head of the monarchy that rules (loosely) both his own own country and, amongst others, this fair country in which I find myself today. He’s been the source of unending media frenzy since years before he was born, and now it’s reached whatever is more overexcited than a frenzy. A Diana of frenzy, let us say. And I don’t want to use those key words that are all over the internet, because I don’t really want to feed into said frenzy, though I want to talk about it. Let’s call his parents Bill and Cathy; he is the monarchy baby.

 

I’m interested in the monarchy baby. I am interested in ALL THE BABIES. Pre-Rocket, I couldn’t care less about any of them unless I was directly related to/pals with their parents. Post-Rocket, I am enthralled by everyone’s babies. You should hear me at work – I am insufferable, and I will always try and shoehorn a conversation about children out of anyone who’s carrying around one younger than, say, three. Why? I don’t know. I guess I am happy for them. Maybe they will offer one of those tidbits of information you can successfully use on your own kid. They are certainly all cuter than they were before I had one of my own, when I thought they all looked a bit gross. Maybe you want to hear that there’s someone out there with the same problems you’re having.

 

It’s tricky, because I’ve wanted to, just a little bit, keep up with the monarchy baby. Bill and I go way back – the last time there was this level of frenzy for a birth, it coincided with my own, though I was born the day before him. (My mother claims if you were born on the same day you got some kind of commemorative memorabilia. At 5 o’clock the day before Bill’s birth, I ruined the carefully maintained empty spot in our glass cabinet waiting for such an item.) I had always assumed that we would meet up some day, just because we were the same age – that when he did a stretch at a Victorian boarding school, we would meet at a party. My parents pointed out that we wouldn’t exactly be in the same circles – but I was convinced that a bogan from Croydon and a prince currently in Geelong would meet, and fall in love. Anyway, time proved them correct, and I’ve probably missed my chance. (I’ve come to terms with it.) This sounds like I am some giggly fangirl over him, and I’m not – it’s just that this day-off-a-coincidence of birth means I feel less cynical about him than I may otherwise.

 

There is a lot of vitriol out there directed at people who show interest in the monarchy baby. Fair enough, and it is sickening to think of mountains of people obsessing over your life like that, and news outlets with goddamn ridiculous stories like “when is baby number two?” and a CNN headline proclaiming that the baby had been born vaginally. Are you fucking kidding? That is NEWS? But I guess that points towards one of the reasons people are interested. When you don’t have one, kids are all over the place. When you do, you want to know more. No, I didn’t need to hear from anyone but Cathy herself how she birthed her kid, because it’s not important. But people don’t really talk about these things. How many conversations have you had about birth? Before I was pregnant, I knew nothing about the disgusting things ahead. Hell, before I tried conceiving, I didn’t even realise you can only get pregnant within a small window of time, so convinced I’d been by stories of teenagers having sex once and getting knocked up. (Still though, wear a condom, kids.) It seems like it’s everywhere, but it’s still taboo. And okay, it’s gross. Super gross, even. But when you don’t hear what happens to other people, you don’t know whether you did a good job or not. I want to make it clear that everyone has done a good job, no matter what the outcome: you do what you can with what you have. And even if you have an outcome like mine (healthy baby), you still second guess everything you did. When I looked over my paperwork after I was discharged, and saw the reason she was yanked out with forceps listed as maternal exhaustion, I wept. I read it as you’re lazy, and you gave up. Time heals thoughts like this. I saw Cathy outside the hospital with her cute bundle of baby and thought, Look how straight she stands. All that pushing ruined everything of mine and I couldn’t stand up properly for weeks.

 

It is not fair for me, however, to have this glimpse into someone else’s birth at the expense of their privacy. Sure, they are wealthy and that kid will want for nothing; I’ve read many a good article about abolishing the monarchy and it’s clear we don’t need it. But while it’s there, I’m glad they seem nice, and it is unfair that they never have anything to themselves – not even the birth of their child. I’m glad I didn’t have to put on a brave face the day after the Rocket was born; I stayed in the hospital and freaked out and had to relearn from a physiotherapist how to poop. I didn’t have to put on makeup and heels and greet the people; I lay in bed breastfeeding clumsily in front of all of my relatives and friends. (There are pictures, but New Idea didn’t seem interested in buying them.) I’m lucky, in this respect.

 

Far be it for me to know the motivations behind all the people who are thrilled for the arrival of a monarchy baby. Maybe they’re monarchists, maybe they feed off celebrity, maybe they love a big community party. It is nice, anyway, for crowds to gather for celebration instead of protest. Maybe if the media could back the hell off and calm down, and let the parents give out the news themselves instead of stealing it through gaps in security, I wouldn’t feel so dirty for being happy for them, for seeing news stories about them. But those who are interested aren’t mean-spirited. There’s a chance, possibly, that they’re just looking for something relatable in a world that is otherwise far out of their reach.

 

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