Yes, I know, I’ve only been writing this blog for a little over a month, so it’s a bit like One Direction releasing a Greatest Hits album, but here are some of my favourite blog posts from July. Think of this, if you will, as the Cliff’s Notes of Melbourne Mum.
- Careful she might Hear you. The story of my deaf ear. Warning: explicit memory-bashing.
- The Great Taboo. I thought this post might be divisive, but the response, both on the blog and on the Melbourne Mum Facebook page has been overwhelmingly positive.
- One Question a monogamist doesn’t want to hear. The things people say when there is no verbal filter on their brain. Happens to me all the time.
- Anatomy of a Redundancy. It’s tough writing something that other people involved in the story might read. You want to do the situation justice, be honest, but also make it vague enough to protect the identities and feelings of others. I think I got it right here – certainly lots of people who knew about what I went through said I was being fair in my account.
- The Choices we make. Scout’s “messages” to her mum and dad. God I love that kid.
- Melbourne Mum and the antiflogblog etiquette. Stumbling through the minefield of social media as an awkward, frigid virgin.
- School Holiday Blues. They came, they saw, they kicked my arse. They are gone. Thank fuck.
- 10 X-files quotes you can use on your kids. I’m still stunned that there are so many X-files tragics out there after 10 years absence. Is the Power of the Duchovny really that strong?
I had my orientation at Swinburne today and, it kinda blew…
I don’t know what I was expecting – it’s been 18 years since I last set foot in a University and they were the heady days of the early 90s, painted by hallucinogens, dope, unrequited love, cheap port and bad drama productions. Things probably haven’t changed all that much, but I have (obviously – just ask my jeans). I just want to learn shit (lots and lots of SHIT) and skip the unsophistication of the overstuffed lounge chairs scattered out in the refectory and the disproportionate number of female students wearing pantyhose without skirts (clearly I have no problem with males doing this). Didn’t we go through this in 2009? Didn’t the people decide that knickers should never be seen under black nylon? Must have missed that memo.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. I could only stay for part of the day and only got a snapshot of what life at Swinburne is like (I promise to give my university rebirth a red hot go before I really get the claws out). Perhaps I’ve watched too much Good Will Hunting, or am comparing it unfavourably to my first experience as a drunk, shaggable Arts student. Maybe a part of me is yearning to BE that drunk, shaggable Arts student again (cough cough, let’s pretend that last phrase never happened, Husband) as I had one hell of a romping good time at the University of Queensland and met some of my favourite people on this earth there.
Two things happened during the day that were rather spiffing, though:
- One of the volunteers who was giving us a tour of the campus, asked me if I was coming to Uni straight from school. You could have heard the maniacal laughter in Wantirna. The School of Relentless Motherhood and Sleep Deprivation maybe (from which, I’ll have you know, I received an honorary Doctorate in Parenting. Honorary only because I was sleeping when it was awarded), but I’m sure that’s not what she meant. I wanted to kiss her. In a motherly way, you understand; and
- I discovered a dumpling shop ON CAMPUS. When I told Scout, her eyes nearly plopped out of her head. Is it bad to get slivers of pleasure by making your 6 year old daughter jealous?
OK, this is probably the shittest photo EVER, but you get the picture. The place sells dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings. Oh I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yes, learning Shit.
The campus feels very next-Gen with its free wifi, 24-hour access to the library’s study spaces and breakout rooms. I think all that is spot-on. I may be Generation-X but I get the Next-Gen approach. No really, I do. I have no choice – my Husband is a geek and I worked for a company that bends over backwards to cater to its Next-Gen staff. But this going back to study lark is a massive shift for me. Maybe a purchase of black Voodoos and pink knickers will help. Jury. Out.
Have you gone back to study after years in the workforce or at home?
There’s something about a martini glass that makes drinking whatever is in it, a festive occasion. I could drink lemonade from a martini glass and it would feel like a party. Thanks to Dan Murphy’s, I don’t have to.
40 ml gin
20 ml cointreau
10 ml lemon juice
Shake and strain in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into martini glass.
I grab my bag, all packed and ready for the day. Throw on my uniform, my internal dialogue raging on spin cycle – “Maybe I should wear my hair this way. Will Emma like me better if I wear the blue shirt or the white?” I’m kinda dreading the before school ritual, played out on the fringes of the quadrangle – “Will Isabel be my friend today? What if she ignores me and I have to walk to class by myself? What if NO-ONE talks to me?”
Then I remember. I am the parent and this is not my school day.
I think as school parents, we share this experience with our kids – the minefield of social belonging. We navigate through their school-hood looking out for them, trying to help them fit in, teaching them how to avoid being bullied and being a bully. But we are also on a similar battlefield as we try to build relationships and find our place with other parents who are, ostensibly, going through the same thing as us.
When Scout started Prep last year, I bonded with a smallish group of mums I’d never set eyes on before (and a couple I had known previously). They were all first-time school parents, either stay at home mums (I had a newborn Inky at the time) or part-time workers, often brutal in their accounts of motherhood, dropping F-bombs liberally, loyal and dependable folks who quickly became the fabric of my school mornings. During drop-off I gravitated towards these women and very quickly the association bled out to after-school get togethers. Importantly, we all made the effort to get to know each other outside pickup and drop off.
Toward the end of the year I committed the cardinal sin of suggesting a camping trip for some of the families, with the understanding that the invitation be extended to “whoever”. Clearly I managed to piss some of the extended group off as it was suggested that I should have included all the prep parents in the initial invitation, leaving no-one out. We are talking about 50 preppies, so 100 parents give or take. In my opinion, this simply wasn’t practical. I had no interest in organising potentially 100 people (worst case scenario) on a camping trip. A picnic in the park, sure, but not a 3 day camping trip.
At about the same time, one of the mums I was close to told me that another of the mums who was not part of this group (she had an older child at school and was already well-versed in schoolyard life) had referred to us in conversation as “the impenetrable clique”. As I consider myself a reasonably empathetic person and not a complete arsehole, this truly horrified me. The criticism did allow me to ruminate (no cow’s jokes, please) on how I was coming across at school (and beyond) and whether the friends I had made were, indeed, a bunch of impenetrably cliquey bitches. The answer was a clear “No”. We were a bunch of friends with a shared outlook, but it wasn’t exclusive by any stretch. Like any friendship group, it swelled at times, it dwindled at times, with the natural rhythm of busy mums whose priorities and work or home timetables change. But it was always mums whose perspectives on parenthood, and life in general, were in sync and, importantly, parents who made the effort to be involved.
And with that, I realised something. You can’t be friends with everyone. I will be kind to people, even if I don’t particularly gel with them, but I won’t be close friends with everyone, in fact, relatively few. I am an extrovert, so am more than happy to chat to whoever (and geez, I love a chat, so spare pity for those parents) but the fact was, the mums in this group were my core people. The ones I had built trust with and with whom I’d made an effort to get to know.
There were plenty of other first-time Prep parents who I really liked and they themselves either congregated into their own little groups of like-mindeds, or were perfectly happy not structuring any kind of social circle around the school (through either choice or availability). There was also the subset of mums who had older kids at school and had already developed their own little groups. I really enjoyed the company of many of these women and caught up with them individually or as part of Playgroup, but I never expected to be part of their tight-knit circle. Theirs was a group that had been cemented over many years. It didn’t mean that they shut me out of conversations, but I definitely got to know them one-on-one as opposed to part of that group. I think there is a natural splintering of larger groups into smaller friendship circles, but it still broke my heart a little that other school mums thought we were shutting them out.
Now Scout is in Grade 1, I’m finding myself developing closer bonds with some mums I wasn’t aware of all that much last year. I’ve also put some distance between myself and the social politics of school, partly through choice, but also because I returned to work part-time in February and I simply wasn’t as available to that group. I think the schoolyard is very much a microcosm of society and it is with that perspective that I will be guiding Scout through the sadness, joy and stickiness of her school friendships.
I think over the past decade or so, there has been a shift towards the educational mantra “all kids should be treated equal”. Whilst I doubt our schools have become communist hotbeds exactly, there is a move away from singling out children as “special” and god forbid a student receives a certificate for something outstanding whilst others miss out. Although I think this has been done with the best of intentions, I don’t necessarily agree with it.
In life, there is hardship as much as there is opportunity and pleasure. There are people who will make fun of you. There are people who you will fall in love with, who won’t love you back. There are people who will want to flush your head down a toilet. Those who will want to snog you behind the shelter sheds at lunchtime. That’s life. I want Scout and Inky to navigate life’s shitstorms as resilient kids/adults and to understand that not everyone will want to be their friend, just as they won’t want to play with kids they don’t have anything in common with. I have my Bully Radar set to a healthy frequency, and will intervene if there is a pattern of bullying or ostracision, but as a parent I’m not altogether concerned if Scout is excluded occasionally from other kid’s games. We will always be her soft place to fall, but I think it is an important lesson for her to learn. We teach her to be kind to other kids (even if she doesn’t like them) but it’s OK if she doesn’t want to play with them. I don’t think friendship should be forced on kids any more than it should be on adults. But for a 6 year old, with all the shades of grey of social interaction, it is a difficult message. Christ, it’s difficult enough for their parents.
From my observations, Scout’s school has an extremely accepting parent community – it’s one of the things I most love about the school. It is a mix of professionals, inner-north fashionistas, artists, musos, students, full-time mums and dads and urban dags, but it’s not nearly as diverse as it was say, 10 years ago. At the risk of generalising, the local demographic has certainly changed and whilst not as homogenous as the eastern suburbs or as alternative as St. Kilda folk, there is a certain similarity in the socioeconomic thrust of the school community. I don’t know if this is the reason for not having experienced any “in” group looking down on the “minions”, but I’m extremely grateful for it.
Not everyone is so lucky, though.
I’ve heard stories of schools being ruled by a head “clique” – women (usually) who have formed a tight clan, a Mummy Mafia if you will, and literally turn their backs on those not with the “in” crowd and bitch about whoever the fuck they please, behind their backs and/or to their faces. These women are often fairly high up in the School Council hierarchy too, making school life even more unbearable. Grade 5 anyone? I find it a revolting proposition and suspect these parents are missing a vital humility gene – the acceptance that whilst you are not going to be friends with everyone, you can at least try to be kind – even if it is just to make small talk occasionally. It must be awful for parents subjected to this type of treatment to be plummeted smack-bang into their school days, missing out again on getting in with the Cool Crowd, and with it, that coveted school captaincy. I think this breed of “derisive clique” is very different, though, to the natural faction splintering that occurs in a larger group (but then, perhaps I was never meant to be a Sociology major).
My friend “S”, who lives a happy, hippy lifestyle, has a daughter who goes to a school in a wealthy eastern-suburb. ”S” doesn’t perceive the cliqueness as intentional, but does notice a real difference between her and the more typical and fashionable “mums that lunch”. ”S” is a person very comfortable in her own skin, so whilst she is aware of the difference, I doubt she’s really bothered by it. Similarly, another friend, “N”, reckons that the ‘clique’ at her school is often superficial with no genuine connection apart from availability. Availability seems key here – parents who work outside the home often find it difficult to make time for other parents. But working less is not always an option.
I also think when we walk into school at the beginning of the day, we can battle with the nagging 10 year old “us” trapped in our psyche that whines, “You’re not COOL enough. No-one is going to LIKE you. Why did you wear the BROOCH when all the cool people are wearing HEADBANDS you IDIOT“, but I’ve no doubt that every other parent is thinking the same thing (unless, of course, you’re Miranda Kerr, but we’ve already established that she’s probably not human). That being said, differences will always exist between people and we will be attracted to those coming from a similar place. If that place is one of bitchy exclusivity, then that is one choice. I have no interest in being a part of that crowd and am not likely to respect those in it, but that is my choice. In my opinion, a clique is only as powerful as those not in the clique make it. As parents, I don’t think we need to be scared of them. I think ultimately we all have the desire to belong, but we also need to make the effort to belong to the right people for us.
On one hand, we should perhaps ignore the inner “us” telling us we won’t fit in, but also remember that everything that awkward whippersnapper experienced in the playground 30 years ago, good and bad, has made us who we are today (sorry for the cliche – I just did a little self-inflicted vomit in my mouth).
And if all else fails, we can leave the grounds at 9.00.
Have you experienced cliquey behaviour at your school or been accused of being cliquey yourself?
* All reviews are the opinion of Melbourne Mum, and are not sponsored.
I am a big fan of unpretentious places with a friendly vibe and industrial decor. Ergo, I love Pomona. Positioned in an unlikely stretch of Murray Road opposite West Preston Primary School, it is a buzzing, popular place for the local families and those that love their coffee.
The service staff are brilliant, really welcoming and helpful. And you can “make your own” breakfast – two eggs however you like them, with toast and a plethora of sides (love the homemade pesto and goats cheese combo). The poached eggs are always cooked perfectly, that’s if I can even get to them before my littlest dude sticks her babycinoed fingers into the googs and insists on “more more egg?” But hey, that’s my problem, not theirs.
Pomona is more of a breakfast/brunch place and if you’re allergic to eggs there is not all that much to choose from. It does cater more to those who are gluten intolerant, with wheat-free options available. There is a small lunch menu which is delicious, but not extensive. Happily, I live in a city where all-day breakfasts are, not only the norm, but are revered.
While the food and coffee are excellent (they pride themselves on their single origin du jour) I come to Pomona for the atmosphere. I would possibly kill to get my grubby hands on the artfully graffitied communal table in the front room (the subject of many of my design wet dreams). And although I’ve never done it, it’s the kind of place where you could set up your laptop on the table and work happily there for the day, munching your way through the menu and mainlining their expertly crafted coffees.
There is a basic kids breakfast menu, highchairs and toys for the kids (including paper and crayons – always a hit for the hungry ferrets) and a trippin’ kitchen garden out the back.
- What was the bill?: Brunch for 4 + coffee for 2 – $55
- Where is it? Pomona Cafe, 474 Murray Road, Preston.
- How kid-friendly is it?: 9/10. Highchairs, amusements, a kid’s breakfast menu and quite a bit of space to run around outside
In theory, the Melbourne Open House presents a fascinating opportunity, inviting the residents of Melbourne and beyond to a guernsey of the buildings that make Melbourne unique. When you have a not-quite-2-year-old to drag around, though, the queues at the really popular places bite, and the concept of a “guided tour” crosses the eyes of both children (and their mum).
The one place in the CBD I really wanted to see, the Manchester Unity House, had a ballot for the tour well in advance of the actual weekend, so behold the rather disorganised parent who did not get her shit together in time. Not to worry, I’m sure the impressive beauty of the art-deco boardroom would have been lost on the children.
So we ditched the Open House and headed to Suga in Royal Arcade. For someone who actually doesn’t like lollies that much (I know, missing a vital chromosome etc. etc.) I freaking love that place (and even tuck quite heartily into the free samples) – it’s an enthralling peep-hole into Willy Wonka’s apprenticeship. The confectioners were making passionfruit heart-shaped lollipops and the small shop exuded the smell of fresh passionfruit. If you can ignore the row of artificial scent bottles behind the counter, you can imagine yourself in a passionfruit orchard (or whatever the hell passionfruit is cultivated in).
We then wandered down to Block Place to C&B, a cornerstone of Melbourne lane-way coffee culture. It was only 11am but I was feeling peckish, so ordered the Waffles with Ice Cream, berries and maple syrup (I’m sorry, what do you order for brunch after free samples of 100% sugar?)
Mum then got a leave pass to go to the Brain Centre at the University of Melbourne. It’s something I feel passionate about, the brain. I also feel passionate about not having to herd two overtired daughters back home on the tram. The Brain Centre was… OK. I had forgotten momentarily that the Open House is about architecture, really. And the Brain Centre is not yet 2 years old, so the volunteers were getting very excited about the large modern communal lunch area with the 5 star energy rating and I was like, oh ho hum, show me some BRAINS.
I didn’t learn anything about the brain that I didn’t already know, so my expectations weren’t really met. We got to peek inside the brain-research laboratories, but as it was the weekend, no-one was working so it was a bit like looking inside a fridge with no intention of cooking any food.
I’m not convinced that the Open House extravaganza is geared for kids. At the start of the day, we got off the tram at Parliament and had grand plans of checking out Parliament House (40th in the queue) and the Hotel Windsor (15 minute wait for a tour) until we realised there were no padded rooms at either place.
Friends of mine took their progeny to the Victoria Police Mounted Branch, Princes Pier Terminal and the State Library (the latter with the Elephant Lift, Pendulum Staircase and the Catacombs), all interesting for kids (ostensibly), but given the distances between each place, not really feasible for a bored toddler who needs a midday sleep. I think next year I’ll take Scout only. She’ll also appreciate the brains I’m sure.
I am congenitally deaf in one ear. Until I was about 3 or 4, my parents thought I may not have been “all there” (they were probably onto something). I only responded to them sometimes and my kinder teachers expressed concern that I was also not often responsive (hey dude, don’t you understand you have PLAYDOH in this joint – why the hell would I want to talk to you when I could be playing with PLAYDOH?).
A battery of tests followed and audiologists discovered I was deaf in my left ear and was probably born that way. There is nothing wrong with the framework of the ear – a doctor can look in it and it seems perfectly normal. I think it is inner ear nerve damage (the nerve either doesn’t work, or doesn’t exist), but to tell the truth, I’m not sure I know exactly what’s wrong with it – it actually doesn’t matter to me much.
The fact that I’m deaf is in itself a weird coincidence, as my mum suffered from Meniere’s Disease when she was 10 and became deaf in the same ear as a result of the illness. My deafness had nothing to do with her deafness, though. Watching my mum and I walk down the street is a comic treat as we both try to swap sides so we can hear each other, like two clowns trying to walk the same trapeze.
As a kid, being partially deaf sucked monkey’s balls. I remember being in Kinder (the NSW version of Prep) and I hadn’t heard my teacher, Miss Abrams, giving us a particular lot of homework. The next day the teacher (oh sorry, I can’t spell, I meant to spell it “bitch”) called me out on it in front of the whole class, delivered with the sarcastic vitriol that only a teacher who shouldn’t be teaching kids AT ALL can muster. I remember running into my mum’s arms at the end of the day in tears. I remember my mum marching up to the school and expressing her dismay that this teacher had been a complete COW to me for something that was clearly not my fault. In retrospect, I think I probably appeared just a bit “different” and she had no experience or interest in managing “different”.
Then, when I was 13 and in my first year of high school, I saw a girl from the local public high school at the shops. I didn’t know her very well and I didn’t think she had said anything to me at the time. The next week, on the school bus (I went to the catholic school a few suburbs away and shared the bus with the public high school students), I was publicly vilified by this same girl who had her gang of buddies chanting “Snob! Snob!” to me because I had not said hello to her at the shops (as I hadn’t heard her). She wouldn’t have known I was partially deaf, of course, but I discovered it doesn’t take much to spark the thread of bullying and public humiliation. I grew a pretty tough skin from that time. It hurt, but I knew it wasn’t my fault.
Then when I came back from Canada, I moved to Melbourne. I was 27 at the time and lived with my brother and his girlfriend in Eltham. Out of the blue, I was struck down with the worst tinnitus (look it probably wasn’t the worst tinnitus ever, but this is my story, and I can superlative it if I want to). There was a constant, high-pitched buzzing in my head that was present 24/7. Nothing relieved it, although when I was awake I was distracted, so it didn’t feel as intense during the day. When I went to get it checked out, the ENT “specialist” discovered that I had a deaf ear. From that point, his diagnosis of why I had tinnitus hinged upon the fact that I had a deaf ear and was thus really stressed about that fact, causing the tinnitus. I looked at him flabbergasted and said, “I’ve lived with having a deaf ear for TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS, I reckon I’m pretty OK with that fact now.” As it turned out, the tinnitus went away on its own volition over the following weeks. I’m fairly certain it had nothing to do with any so-called “stress”.
Once I had kids in my mid 30′s, I discovered something unimaginably wonderful. That having a deaf ear could be pretty fucking brilliant. When we moved both Scout and Inky into the second bedroom when they were about 6 months old, their cot was on the other side of the wall from our bed. If I slept on my right side, I couldn’t hear their little cries or snuffles or murmurs that ordinarily would have woken me, but if they really needed me and the cries got loud, then I would be able to hear through the pillow.
The deafness is wholly directional. If I am watching TV with Husband and the speakers are in front of us, I can hear as much as he does – it’s only if the speakers are to my left that I have to turn my head to hear. Over the years, I have developed the uncanny ability to hear things others don’t (for example, I can hear a dripping tap from several rooms away) because I’ve overcompensated so much. And I can pick up the body language of other people with a single deaf ear, and am finding that being partially deaf is not as uncommon as one would think.
People have asked me whether I would have an operation to fix it if one existed. I’ve always responded “No Way”, partly because there are pros of having a deaf ear (if I didn’t have one I would probably not sleep, ever) and partly because having a deaf ear has defined me. It is part of who I am, just like my scars, and my memories. I suspect I may be more resilient now because of those episodes in childhood.
A downside, though, is when you get the flu and a blocked eustachian tube, you genuinely can’t hear a fucking thing. I imagine it would be like an astronaut hovering over earth in her spacesuit with the hollow echo of her voice the only thing she can hear. An upside for Husband, though, is he gets to make a lot of deaf grandpa jokes. At least someone’s getting something out of it.
I do love a good 2-ingredient cocktail screamer. Every mum should memorise this recipe. Or, even better, get someone else to memorise it (and make it) for you.
50 ml vodka
20 ml kahlua
Fill a glass of ice and throw the ingredients in. And thank god for Russians.
Related posts (i.e. more cocktail inspiration):
Ah, “Hunt the Thimble”. Actually published in 1967, it was a favourite of mine in the mid 70s. 9 kids hiding and looking for a thimble – pretty basic concept really. Gives a new spin on the ol’ Hide and Seek, though.