Insert Toilet Joke Here

August is an exciting month.

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GammaCon (where that pic was taken) is over for another year (it RULED by the way) but the Canberra Writers’ Festival is approaching (23-26 August) and I’ll be launching TWO books that weekend.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday will be launched with a week-long art exhibition at The Front cafe and gallery in Lyneham.

The official launch is 3:30-5:00pm on Saturday 25th, and at least two of the visual artists plan to be there.

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And the final book in my steampunk fantasy trilogy, Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights will be launched as an official part of the Canberra Writers Festival at Old Parliament House (aka The Museum of Australian Democracy) in Kings’ Hall 2:45-3:15pm Sunday August 26.

I’ll be selling all my stuff at both launches.

They’re also in stock (including Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday and Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire, which are in the games section) at Dymocks Belconnen, which means all my books/games are super easy to order into any Dymocks store (but especially Tuggeranong, which is linked to Belco).

 

But that’s not why I’m blogging today.

I’m blogging because of an event far rarer and more impressive than a book launch. I usually release a book a year… but this is something that hasn’t happened since TJ was born.

I did a proper clean of the toilet.

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I cleaned the whole room, including the floor and walls (there was quite a bit of blood on the wall*). Just look at how clean it is!

Chris and I are talking fairly seriously about dividing up our house so we can take a tenant (tenant rather than room-mate because they’d have a separate entrance and loo). So that’s why I was suddenly enthusiastic about cleaning… because it’s likely this will be my toilet soon.

Sidebar: I suspect any artworks that are unsold at the end of the exhibition will be in with a chance of making an impromptu gallery in this one tiny clean part of my house. A rather dubious honour, I think. But the above cleanliness is somewhat bland, don’t you agree?

Regular readers will know that we recently said goodbye to Princess Ana after ten fluffy years, and that a house without a cat is unthinkable. (As I write this, the wind is banging the cat flap, and I keep expecting Ana to walk in and glare at me in that adorable cat manner.)

That’s one of the VERY early pic of TJ and Ana. There are many more.

it is to TJ’s credit that he prefers an older cat. I am not a good enough person to adopt an older cat. I enjoy the short, playfully unco months of kittenhood, and I also like a cat that I’ve trained myself.

So at some stage soon we’ll get a kitten. Squeee!

But we’ll most likely get a tenant and kitten at around the same time, because kittens are fun and tenants are not. So dangling a future kitten in my mind keeps me motivated to continue figuring out how to fit all our stuff into smaller and smaller spaces.

I’ve donated three large garbage bags of clothes to charity/friends in the last few weeks—mostly my own. A lot of my outfits dated back to pre-Chris romances, which was quite a trip down memory lane. My general body shape has been extremely haywire for the last 8 years due to two enormous babies, various medical conditions, and an operation. Now that I’ve had the stomach op, though, I have a better idea of my proportions relative to one another. That’s helpful.

I kept some of my ‘optimistic’ clothes (including some gorgeous dresses) but put them in a box until next year.

Not for the first time, I noticed that I talk to myself a lot (and also talk to inanimate objects). Yet another reason to get a cat, amirite? That way at least I’m talking to an animal. Ana was always very helpful when a plot wasn’t working right and needed workshopping.

So that’s where life is at the moment. How about you?

*Louisette has really dramatic blood noses. I couldn’t tell you how long ago that particular stain happened; I rarely use that toilet so if you’ve visited us in the last three months… sorry ’bout that. You’ll also be pleased to hear that we changed the toilet seat to an adult sized version instead of the miniature one that we’ve been making people-who-are-not-us use for the last five years.

How to Make an Epic Dino Cake

My son turned four this week, and asked for a dinosaur cake. Once I had the revelation that (a) I don’t like cake, so (b) Why bother making it? but (c) I do like creating peculiar things, and (d) The only thing they’ll eat is a horrifying amount of icing anyway… It all fell into place.

Or at least, it fell.

TJ is a winter baby (which means parties must be inside), and his father, grandfather, uncle, and oldest cousin all have birthdays within about a week. So I arranged to have two parties today: one for TJ’s friends (at an inside playground with a dino room), and one for his numerous relations (at my house).

That meant I could make a single giant cake and use leftovers for party #2.

There are two basic schools of thought for dinosaur cakes: One big dinosaur, or a scene with several dinosaurs. In my opinion, the one big dino cake takes more skill. Sure, there are dino-shaped cake tins out there, but you still need to be able to have smooth icing. Not gonna happen.

I was clever enough to assemble the cake at the location of the party, rather than attempting to carry it safely in a vehicle (and to take my own knives and large containers in which to bring home the leftovers). I was also clever enough to order the base from Woolworths. I ordered a basic slab cake, two layers, no icing. It was $20. I took three layers off part of it, and moved them to the top at the back. Voila! A cliff face ready for a waterfall.

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At Woolies I’d previously bought various items: edible glue (which I couldn’t figure out how to open, so I hacked it open with a knife; used it to stick cupcake topper sheets around the sides), writing icing (used for the blue lines in the water), Natural Confectionary dinosaurs, and a full roll of “ready rolled icing” suitable for a 22cm round cake, which I sliced into shapes with a butter knife for the water.

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I’d made a double portion of chocolate buttercream icing at home (it needs to either be made or re-mixed on the day or the butter hardens and it’s useless), which had a pleasantly different texture to my “water”. I spread it in a hurry, and quite thick, so it just covered the top. I was using my hands and laughing maniacally at this stage, rather aware of my deadline as one of the kids had to leave early and there was another party using the room at 12, etc etc. The buttercream icing had enough stickiness to draw up some of the cake, and it also struggled a bit to hold onto the “cliff”. But it worked well enough. As you can see, smooth flat icing is not my forte (not that I was particularly trying this time).

This icing was easy to shove about, and it was great for standing up little dinosaurs later.

 

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I had prepared some desiccated coconut ages earlier with food dye, intending it to be green grass but it was too blue so I chucked it in the water.

The trees didn’t really work (but who cares? They’re made of Tim Tams, mint leaves, and lolly bananas), although leaning them against the cliff helped (the edible glue didn’t—using icing might have worked a little).

The mountains and volcanoes are “chocolate” waffle cones. I’ll go into more detail about the volcanoes in a bit…

The flowers were a pack of edible flowers I impulse bought at Woolies when I was examining sundry icing/sprinkle products for inspiration.

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I also used:

-Green and yellow sprinkles for grass/sand. (If your child is very scientific, this is not the cake for them… grass is a relatively recent plant.)

-Edible white balls from the same pack to be dino eggs (quite a stretch).

-Dino candles (they are parading across the water at the top of the waterfall. I presume this is how they became extinct. That, and being on fire). Ebay.

-Lots of fondant dinosaurs from ebay (actually, I was pretty happy with them despite how fragile they are. They mostly survived the post and last a long while (weeks), and taste better than anything rice paper-ish).

-Dino sprinkles around the edge of the water (SO not necessary… AND mixed with other sprinkles… but TJ was rather taken with the idea of dino sprinkles).

-Strawberry topping carefully applied around the edges of the volcanoes for lava (it was important that none of the topping got inside the volcanoes).

-Mini plastic dinos (tube of 20 or so for $4 from Kmart and I dropped some in each party bag afterwards), and two wind-up dinos ($3 each at Kmart).

-Dino cupcake toppers for the sides of the cake (stuck on with “edible glue” from Woolies), and Tim Tams.

As you can see, the aesthetic I was going for was: I bought a whole lotta vaguely cake-related stuff and I aim to use it ALL.

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So there it is in all its glory.

Now let’s talk volcanoes.

I dug two holes in the cake, and inserted small empty (clean) coke bottles (I experimented with other shapes and the mini soft drink bottle worked best). Then I broke a hole in the pointy end of two waffle cones and placed them over the top.

I was careful to make the bottle hole and cone hole match up as well as possible. You can see one of the bottles in the top of this pic:

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The cones did shatter a fair bit, but they fundamentally worked.

Bring a SEALED bottle of DIET red (the colour doesn’t matter; a lot of people use Coke because the dark colour is more dramatic but obviously red was better here).

At the last moment, fill both bottles. Then drop two MINT MENTOS into each one.

NB: The red diet drink I used uses stevia (considered a more ‘natural’ sweetener than the old chemical ones that have a number and/or a multisyllabic name). A LESS natural drink is likely to cause a greater explosion.

 

My daughter and her friend held the wind-up dinosaurs and let them go when I said, “Now!” and dropped the mentos into the volcanoes.

I lit the candles before pouring the diet soft drink into the bottles.

The familarrr

Edit: For those of you who keep telling me you wish you could make it to one of my Interactive Fiction workshops (I generally run one at Conflux every October long weekend), here’s a video course I made on udemy: Introduction to Interactive Fiction. It’s $20.


 

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This was, of course, taken at the Pirate Ball & Book Launch last night.

Here’s some more:

 

Time for a rest!

My next public event is a talk/workshop on Interactive Fiction at the University of Canberra on Friday 2 March 5:30-7:30pm. It’s a rare opportunity to talk IF with me for free, and it’s open to the public.

If you read the dedication to Silver and Stone you’ll know that this group took me in when I was scrambling to write the second Antipodean Queen book. They’re a smart & friendly crowd and I recommend checking them out.

Their facebook page is here.

Christmas Letter

Each year I make a calendar (using Vistaprint) for the following year, in which the photos roughly correlate with the same months of the previous year.

I sure hope that sentence makes sense.

For example, this was taken in March, during which Canberra hosts a massive international hot air balloon festival every year.

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So, what did we get up to this year?

In very early January we went camping with some of our Hong Kong relatives, which the kids were desperate to do. Those relatives became first-time parents this year, so we have another cousin now!

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Lots of health dramas this year for both Louisette (inattentive ADD) and myself (lots of things, some of which have improved or been fixed—and I’m finally getting my stomach stitched together this month!)

Also lots of sleepovers with cousins.

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Lots of AWESOME writing stuff happening. In fact there are two Very Big Things I can’t talk about yet!

CHOICES THAT MATTER: AND THEIR SOULS WERE EATEN has had more than half a million downloads, and most people love it (there are loads of reviews on Google Play and not so many on itunes, despite the fact there are actually more sales on itunes). And next year I’ll finish the ANTIPODEAN QUEEN Australian steampunk trilogy of novels (strange, since I wrote HEART OF BRASS before Louisette was born), and start releasing my middle grade Heest trilogy. Plus I’ll release MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY, which is so ridiculously fun and different. And probably do more stuff I don’t know about yet!

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Chris switched jobs due to his previous job getting automated. He’s naturally content and handles such things much more gracefully than I do.

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Louisette is close to finishing her first year of Kindy. Other than the ADD-related stuff, she’s had a great year. She has some really excellent friends, and is taking more responsibility for things like packing her own school bag. It’s crazy how quickly kids learn to read, considering how complex it is. In the moment, of course, every word feels like it takes a million years (especially when the kid has ADD and the parents have either ADD or various other mental problems). Louisette also lost her first tooth, and won a school prize for the house-car-plane model we made together.

Her kindness and/or cleverness sometimes takes my breath away. Talking to her or sharing ideas with her is sheer pleasure.

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TJ turned 3 (we went to the zoo in a big group of cousins and friends), and became deeply obsessed with puzzles. He’s unusually good with letters and numbers, in part because he’s a smart kid and in part because Louisette loves teaching him (consciously preparing him for Kindy, which is two years away) and he adores her.

The kids continue to get on really well (most of the time).

Also, trains.

TJ is full of newfound imaginative skills (‘Tiggy’ was his first imaginary friend) and spends a lot of his time being the absolute perfect ideal of a happy and funny 3-year old boy. His laugh is so infectious.

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Um… what else?

Horseriding and cat-patting.

We (that is, the kids and I) also went to Telstra Tower twice this year, which TJ in particular enjoys talking about every time we see it (so, pretty much whenever we step outdoors).

We all had birthdays, and we’ll be having Christmas soon.

So that was our year, as far as I can remember it: Doctors and writing for me, job change for Chris, Kindy and maniacal laughter for/from the kids.

And the inevitable Christmas pic:

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And this is why digital cameras are awesome: because we get to keep all the truly terrible pictures taken along the way.

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Santa’s been into the egg nog, it seems.

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Santa get on the sauce and punched an angel. Allegedly.

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No paparazzi!

48 hours

A few minutes ago, Chris and the kids drove away. They’re going to Sydney to stay in a house by a beach with relatives. I’m not going to see any of them for about two days.

The idea of sending them off without me has the ring of genius about it. Today is the last day of school holidays, and we’ve saved money (and spent large chunks of my sanity) by not enrolling Louisette in holiday care. She’s in Kindy this year, and the holidays are just as awful as I expected. (Louisette herself is very low-maintenance most of the time, but I’m just not well enough to deal with kids 24/7.)

I’m literally shaking from the stress of packing the car and getting everyone out and away… but they’re gone now. My time is my own until Sunday, and anything I put away or clean will stay put away or clean until then.

I can watch grown-up TV during the day. I can fix household items without anyone begging to ‘help’. I can cook without anyone loudly yelling that they won’t eat it. I can eat whole meals without having to get up even once. I can work as long as I like, and sleep when I like. I can go the the toilet by myself. I don’t have to dread the usual morning battles. I don’t have to get out of my PJs until Monday.

As I was talking about this glorious weekend, more than one person said, “Or you could, you know, rest. Or maybe do something fun.” Those words literally don’t make sense to me. I have to try to think past the layers of panic, pain, and guilt and then use a dose of imagination.

TV. I like TV. And reading. And napping. So I’ll definitely do all of those things.

And I’ll put all the toys where they belong. And do a ‘toy swap’ (where some are brought out of hiding while others are put away). And maybe clean the bathrooms. And hopefully write somewhere between 10 and 20,000 words. And maybe sort the medicine shelf. And some of the study. And the kids’ rooms. And maybe the pantry cupboard. And I’ll definitely give the kitchen a _proper_ clean, including the oven. And some of the junk spots that we have here and there all over the house. And the winter/summer clothes. And wash all the bedlinen.

The writing will be fun. Plus it will lead to less oh-shit-I’m-behind-on-everything stress, and also some pay. Pay is important.

I can’t help feeling there’s something desperately wrong with our society that makes people (women, of course I mean women) plan an entire free weekend around work and cleaning. But I hope that at the end of this weekend I’ll be ahead on work and temporarily less swallowed up by guilt, and I can be present for the things that are actually fun—being with Chris, and being with my family.

I remember that being fun. It will be fun again.

A conflux pic taken by Cat Sparks:

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One-Quarter

As I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room today, I realised something.

My job as a parent is to love my kids and help them grow up to be vaguely functional, content, and decent adults (to the extent that is possible). John Scalzi recently wrote a lovely post on his daughter’s 18th, opening with:

Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.”

As you know, dear reader, Louisette just turned five. She is a schoolgirl now, not a baby or a toddler or a pre-schooler or even an “under-five”.

If you consider adulthood to fall around the age of twenty, then my vital task of being the mother of this particular child is already one-quarter finished. Obviously I’ll still be Louisette’s mother after that, but we will both be adults – equals – and, I hope, friends.

Five and a bit years ago, Louisette opened her eyes for the first time.

Now she walks and talks and has opinions and best friends and flaws and skills and dreams. She is herself; different to anyone else in the world.

Another five years, and she’ll be ten. Tall and long-haired, and showing the first signs of puberty. Ten year olds can have intelligent conversations with anyone. They’re smarter and better than most adults, to be honest. When I taught K-10 Indonesian, it was the ten-year olds that I liked the most.

Five years after that, she’ll be fifteen, and utterly different. She’ll have a much better idea of who she is and who she wants to be. She’ll be well past puberty; wearing bras and flirting with boys. Maybe even dating (ugh! no!). She’ll have secrets from me—important secrets. She might barely speak to me at all. She might be learning to drive, or deciding where to apply for her first job. Any movie I can watch, she can watch with me.

Five years after that, she’ll be twenty. She’ll be her own creature more than she is mine, even if we still share the same house. She’ll probably already have at least one serious heartbreak behind her. She can think rationally about marriage, and will know whether she wants children or not.

Five years after that, I might be a grandmother.

All that in the blink of an eye.

 

Time for another collage! Stat!

 

 

 

 

That final photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au at the National Arboretum.

And I’ll end with another great quote from another great author (in this case, Pamela Freeman*), who is a facebook friend of mine (I knew her before she was as famous as she is now) and said, “Here’s another weird thought: she might be a quarter of the way towards being adult, but it’s the most important quarter. You’ve laid down positive brain chemistry, taught her how to love and how to think, and whatever you’ve done now is likely it: even puberty won’t shape her brain more than you have already done. I find this both scary and reassuring.”

Writers make the best facebook comments.

Since I seem to be quoting writers today, here’s some Tolstoy: “From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance.”

Which is more or less what Pamela Freeman (and various psychologists) said, but in Tolstoy’s inimitable style.

*She writes a bunch of different genres from historical drama to glorious fantasy to children’s books. I just finished reading the second “Princess Betony” book with Louisette, a chapter a night (and freely altering the scary bits to be less scary).

The artist formerly known as Miss Four

Last Sunday, Louisette turned five. She’s about to start Kindy. Today was her party.

Five years. She’s grown all the way from a giddying hypothetical notion to a wrinkly spew machine to a distinct person: smart, focused, creative, affectionate, gentle, passionate, and gorgeous. I took a photo a day for the first year of each of my kids lives, and those daily photos are here (TJ first, since he’s more recent) if you’re in the mood for a lot of scrolling.

Look at that girl!

(This photo and the next were taken on a professional shoot with Thorson Photography.)

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Right now I feel like just plastering every wall of my home with photos of my kids.

All the most horrifying statistics about kids are “this many kids under five die of such-and-such”. Now that Louisette has turned five, I’m pretty sure she’s going to live forever. We made it this far, right? RIGHT???

Kindy. (Note to self: Learn how to spell Kindergarten. GAR-ten. You can’t rely on five attempts and a spell checker every single time…)

Kindy is the beginning of a new era. It’s a relatively easy transition for Louisette since it’s located literally next door to her day care centre (which she’s been attending since she was a year old; at the party today there were three kids she’s been friends with since that time – and a total of six pre-existing friends who will be in Kindy with her).

Louisette is deliriously excited about Kindy as well as being quite nervous (probably because every adult in her life is so obsessed with Kindy that it’s making it seem like a much bigger life event than it is). She’ll wear a uniform and have school holidays (she’s five weeks into the longest holidays of her life right now). It changes the routine of our family – we’re finally taking both kids to the same school (sort of; TJ is in the day care of course), but the kids have significantly different routines now.

TJ has long days Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, and nothing Thursday-Friday.

Louisette is 9:00am-3:00pm every weekday (I’ll pick her up two hours before TJ) and then has school holidays completely free.

I’m hoping that I can use the syncopated routines to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid. They’re different creatures when they’re the only one around (which is part of why siblings are so wonderful; they open up a new part of who your kid is). I’ve had pretty bad anxiety ever since TJ was born, mainly because of health stuff. But a part of that anxiety is the need to divide my attention between them and/or make sure they’re not killing each other every ten seconds or so. Hopefully the one-on-one time will help my brain to stop panicking, and will also give me many of those marvellous, surprising moments when my kids and I are truly connected and I’m suddenly overthrown by awe and happiness and pride and love. I hope there’s a correlation between “time parent spends with little kids” and “time adult kids spend with aged parents” because I don’t want to miss any piece of their lives.

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(ProTip for mothers who feel ugly in pics after pregnancy: Hide behind children. Or, where possible, behind a tree.)

When Louisette was an infant we were at a playgroup for mums with babies all born within about a month of each other (one of those “babies” is the non-TJ gentleman in this picture, who has never missed Louisette’s birthday and who also happens to possess two top-notch parents for myself and Chris to play with while the kids do their thing).

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I noticed that a lot of one-year olds were miserable and/or terrified at their own party. The party wasn’t for them, it was for all the friends and family who loved them. But I decided that although I’d always have a party for my kids, I’d also make sure they did something on their birthday day that was for THEM. In the years since, it’s evolved to “family + activity” on the birthday day; then later a party day (my sister’s kids come to both).

On Louisette’s birthday day we went on a small local waterslide – Chris, TJ, Louisette, myself, my sister, and her two kids. It was great! Then we had lunch with my parents (including my sister and her two kids), and dinner with Chris’s parents, followed by Louisette having a sleepover at their house AND spending the entire next day with them! So THAT worked.

Louisette has been planning her party since her last party and I’ve been actively prepping for months. (Exhibit A: party bag prep)

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Party bags are a blight upon the face of the earth: junk food, noise-makers, choking hazards, and cheap horrors that fall apart (inspiring much weeping) before the guest gets to their car for the ride home. Having said that, Louisette and TJ are obsessed with them, and so is everyone their age. Since I can prep the bags ahead of time, and choose things that aren’t too irritating to me personally, I don’t truly mind the phenomenon.

Kids also loooove pass the parcel. To a kid, pass the parcel means “A PRESENT FOR ME OH AWESOMES” but when it’s actually happening it means “I AM BEING TAUNTED BY EVERYONE ELSE GETTING GIFTS AND WHEN IS IT MY TURN AND WHY DIDN’T *I* GET THE FLASHING EDIBLE BUNNY BECAUSE NOW I’VE SEEN IT I WANTS IT MY PRECIOUS WAAAAAHHH!!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pass the parcel game happen without at least one kid sobbing. (When the kids are older they’ll get better at it and more realistic.) Last year each layer had a bunch of lollies to share with everyone! Yay! It confused and over-sugared the children, but it was a nice idea. This year my sister was moving house literally today so I said she should drop her kids and leave, and could drop them way before the party started. I had the brilliant idea of having a pre-party pass-the-parcel with exactly the right number of layers for just those four kids, and a new pirate paddle pool in the centre (coordinated to make sure one of my kids got it, to avoid confusion). It went great. (Although one of the other kids—who was having a snotty day anyway—was devastated an hour later that the party didn’t appear to include pass the parcel.)

After months of party-oriented discussion Louisette decided to have a pirate and mermaid party (exactly as she did last year—”in case some people are scared of pirates”), and I encouraged her to make it a pool party. Why? Because at this age, popularity is easy, and I can give it to my daughter for a few dollars. Pool = awesome.

We always have lots of water play at Louisette’s party, and it’s always a hit with the kids (plus super easy to clean up, and it means the inside space is quiet and neat). Chalk is also popular and easy (our house is rendered, which makes it fun to draw on), so I put some chalk outside, and a table (with fruit and fairy bread; water and cups; sunscreen and towels). I hired 1.5 babysitters (the .5 had her own kids there too) for water safety and parental freedom, and barely went outside at all. I ran the party as two overlapping parties, making it clear in the invitations that parents of confident swimmers didn’t need to go outside (in the heat and noise) at all. This cunning plan fundamentally worked. I served a fresh Devonshire Tea (chosen for simplicity while sounding fancy and adult) to anyone who wanted it, and actually enjoyed it myself. It was relatively easy to hold a grown-up conversation, which is pretty amazing considering there were twenty children on the premises. I think a few adults were weirded out about my overt enthusiasm for shoving the children outside, but oh well.

Louisette and I made an ice cream cake again, topped with faux water made from desiccated coconut and colouring (I had reports some of the kids were a bit freaked out, wondering what it was), and with lego people swimming in it. I had one friend distract the kids with the Hokey Pokey while another helped me serve up the cake. That lowered the chaos slightly, and was simple, harmless, fun that suited even the two-year olds.

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I always need a massive debrief after Louisette’s party. This blog was it. I really like the kids my kid hangs out with, and I like their parents too. We talked a lot about Kindy, and uniforms, and school stationary, and eccentric in-laws. Grown-up talking! Yay!

Look at these gorgeous kids!

Louisette’s birthday is the social centre of my year (TJ is a winter baby + a more introverted kid + not born in the major school holidays, so I invite a few close friends to his party but invite pretty much everyone Louisette knows to her parties).

See that blond cherub? I invited him and his sister to Louisette’s party last year without realising they were siblings. That day was the beginning of a whole-family friendship which is one of the best things that happened last year. That boy is TJ’s best friend, his sister is Louisette’s best friend, and Chris and I both like hanging out with their mum.

And here’s a pic of Louisette from her first birthday.

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I loved her with my whole heart that day, but I really do love her more and more as each year passes.

Four years

I’m crying, but it’s not sadness.

My husband Chris and I have been following the US election with increasing horror today. We both chose not to speak openly in the car on the way home, because our kids were with us. We exchanged a few careful words, and I asked Chris to drive. He knew without asking that I was too upset to drive safely.

TJ fell asleep.

Louisette is four years old, a pre-schooler in a Peppa Pig shirt and a baseball cap. She picked up on the vibe and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Chris looked alarmed as I opened my mouth to explain today’s election: “A country a long long way away has just chosen their President. I don’t think they made a good choice. He’s… mean. I think now he will be able to be mean to more people.”

Louisette was silent, thinking.

“It’s a very very long way away,” said Chris.

Damage control.

“Yes,” I said. “On the other side of the world. And there are lots of other politicians who will also be making the laws and all that kind of thing. The whole system of government is designed especially so that if someone mean is the president, they can’t do too many bad things.”

“A long, long way away,” said Chris.

“That man doesn’t hurt people on purpose,” I said. “But when people ask him for help, he says no.”

“That country is all the way on the other side of the world,” said Chris. “Really super far away.”

“And you know what?” I said. “I bet all the kind people in that country—and even us, right here in Australia—will be extra super kind and we will look after all the people who need help.”

“How?” she said.

I’d just received a “Really Useful Gifts” magazine in the mail. They have a wide range of physical items—a goat, a well, a school—that are labelled with prices eg for $50 you can buy a goat so a family has a source of milk, cheese, and future income (if they have a boy and a girl goat…).

When we got home and sorted out the inevitable chaos of bags and drinks of milk and the parental win of transferring TJ into his bed without waking him, I showed Louisette the magazine.

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Louisette has an allowance of $1 per week. Sometimes she buys a 50 cent lolly. A lot of the time she saves it up. Sometimes she dips into her savings and buys herself a toy.

I steered Lizzie towards the things she’d understand best in the magazine: A school. Chickens. A vegetable garden (she always claims to love vegetables, although when we put them on her plate she says things like, “I meant in Summer I like them; not today.”)

She was excited that she could give these presents to someone she’d never met. I told her she had $20 saved up, and that she could spend as little or as much of it as she liked. I told her I would put in the same amount of money that she did.

We kept coming back to chickens. And a small business. And a pre-school. And adult literacy (she was shocked at the concept of someone who was all grown up but still couldn’t read. Reading is hard). And a vegetable garden.

I warned her that if she got all those things her money would be gone. All of it.

“What about my flower?” she asked.

I remembered it well: A little plastic thing with a smiling face that bobbed back and forth. It was the first toy she bought for herself with her own money.

“Actually,” I admitted, “that’s broken. It cost $3. So if you bought all of these things, you would have to wait three weeks with absolutely no lollies or buying anything. Then you could buy a new flower.”

“Okay,” she said. “Then I will buy no lollies for weeks and weeks, and I will buy this”— A school building—”and this”—a clinic—”and all those other things too.”

That’s when my eyes started to mist over. I counted up the cost. $80. Every bit of me wanted to buy it all with my own money, and let her keep her allowance. “That’s a lot of things, Louisette. You’d get no allowance at all for weeks and weeks and weeks.”

She nodded gravely. “You’d get no money at all—not even one single dollar—for weeks and weeks. Not until your birthday.”

An unimaginable distance.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what I want to do.”


A lot of people feel scared of a lot of things right now. We feel helpless.

I can’t change the world, but I can change it for a few of the people who need it the most. I can be kind. I can learn about other cultures and get to know people who aren’t exactly like me—Mexicans. Homosexuals. Muslims. Trump supporters.

I can find out what we have in common, even if it takes some digging sometimes.

I can change an entire village in another part of the world by giving it a school, clinic, small business opportunity, and chickens.

I can teach my children to respond to fear by being more kind, by making more friends, and by giving more of whatever we have to give.

Four years feels like a long time. For my daughter, it’s a lifetime. But in a world that seems to be getting darker and meaner… there she is. There I am. There you are.

The world is a beautiful place.

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If you’d like your money to be more effective where it’s needed most, skip the charity gimmicks and give money to a reputable company like World Vision or Oxfam.

 

 

Same story but without the Trump stuff (so it’s more shareable):

My four-year old daughter Louisette was thrilled to discover that she could use her allowance to buy presents for people she’d never met—and her presents could help them have better food, water, and jobs!
Her allowance is $1 per week and she’d saved $20. I told her that I’d give the same amount of money she did, and we looked at the “Build a Village” range and some other things that made sense to her, like chickens and adult literacy. She is learning to read and she knows it‘s hard work but super important… especially with a mother who’s a writer!


We had to choose so carefully. She paused and asked me about a toy she wanted to buy. I told her that it cost $3 so if she wanted to give her whole savings away she would have no money at all for three whole weeks and then she could buy the toy. 


“Well,” she said. “I want to buy the school, and the clinic, and the vegetable garden, and the chickens, and the pre-school, and the one that teaches a grown-up to read. So if I have no money at all for weeks and weeks and weeks, can I do that?”


“That would be a very, very long time,” I told her. “All the way to your birthday… with no money at all.”


“And then I can give them all those things?” she asked.


“Yes.”
“Then that’s what I really real
ly want to do.”


Louisette loves to dress as SuperGirl, and pretend to help people. Today she made a difference to people in the real world. https://www.usefulgifts.org

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Parenting

Well, it happened. Louisette told me she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.

Being a writer is a terrible idea! My dream for my kids is for them to have steady, 9-5ish jobs with sick leave and annual leave and a pay rise every year. I want them to be healthy and sane. In short, I want them to have everything I never will.

“That’s wonderful!” I said to my sweet innocent child. “And you know what’s great about writing? You can do it AND have another job at the same time!”

Ah, parenting. Finding that magical place between, “Follow your dreams” and “Do your homework.”

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That’s Louisette hugging a dinosaur.

Dancing, Duelling, Delicious: The official book launch for HEART OF BRASS

You know what’s cool? Nurofen tablets are sugar coated.

*

HEART OF BRASS had her official Book Launch yesterday as part of the inaugural Canberra Writers Festival, an absolutely huge event. I was written about (with a cover image) in Canberra Weekly magazine (96,000 readers!) and in the Canberra Times, as well as various other places.

The launch took place in the National Library of Australia (pictured behind the kids and I), in the Ferguson Room. The Ferguson Room overlooks the foyer of the National Library, which gives it a grand air and means one can watch guests coming in. That was particularly fun for me, since I’d encouraged steampunk/historical garb and was well rewarded for my efforts. My kids loved it too. Louisette got to talk into the microphone before anyone else showed up, and she imitated my own test speech by saying, “I wrote a book”—which in her case is quite true (if you haven’t read “The Adventures of Pirate Captain Louisette”, just scroll down a couple of entries).

 

I’m usually a very confident public speaker, but I was intensely nervous (enough to have patches of time when I was breathing funny) before this event, even though I was rationally confident it would go well.

The best and most important thing is people.

I was very lucky in that regard. The Ferguson Room is meant to seat forty people, which is rather a lot for a debut author—but within a day of setting up the facebook page (and SMSing and emailing various people to invite them personally), I knew I had at least twenty people. The phrase “book launch” is haunted by the horrifying spectre of a desperately awkward room of four people sitting in a sea of chairs and wishing fervently that they were elsewhere (none more miserably than the author). By the time the big day rolled around I was slightly nervous that the room would be unpleasantly crowded or that we’d run out of books for people to buy (what wonderful issues to have!) I estimated 50-60 guests beforehand, and I was exactly on the money. Someone had added a few more chairs to the room, which was useful. We sold a very healthy number of books without selling out altogether (my publisher and I both had extra stashes of books just in case). I would have liked to sell more, but this means that the National Library bookshop still has copies on the shelf (excellent promotion in itself).

50-60 people is a lot. That’s a larger number than any event I’ve hosted before (with the exception of my wedding), and it was in a location I didn’t know well.

I get panicky in new places. The National Library as a whole is somewhere I’ve been to many times, and I visited the room before the launch to get a sense of the space, but the technical equipment was new on the day. It all worked well (strange but true), including the book trailer and the dancing music. I really enjoyed the location and I wish I could start over so I could have that confidence from the beginning. Bring on Book 2!

Robbie Matthews is a friend, a writer, and a generally charming and funny person who’s well known to the Canberra writing community. He was MC at my wedding, and I was very pleased with myself for thinking of him again for the launch (especially as it prevented me from haranguing other authors who I don’t know as well).

At my wedding reception one of the tables was “the minion table”—full of people who’d helped decorate, give lifts, take photos, etc. As MC Robbie was on that table and he made friends. Then he made a highly memorable speech about the wide range of colourful threats I’d made to all my sweet innocent minions in order to let them know what would happen if they didn’t do their assigned jobs. I vividly recollect how impressed I was at the time that I’d subconsciously tailored original threats to each person.

As the book launch drew closer I wondered what Robbie would say about me, since I hadn’t threatened anybody this time. He got up and explained how we’d met: We did Live Action Role Playing (LARPing is like a play where all the players have a general character and plot outline and then improvise to amuse one another), and I was his fictional daughter. “By the end,” Robbie explained, “she was wearing my spine as a necklace.”

Oh yeah… I’d forgotten about that. (To be fair, my character was under a lot of stress at the time.) One may draw one’s own conclusions about my general mental health…

A lot of book launches are introduced by the writer’s publisher. It’s a very neat way to do things, but I always felt it was a bit sad since the author and publisher are the people who are the most desperate to sell the book. Having Robbie meant that we had a disinterested party recommending the book (which he read before the launch). That made me feel much less like a grasping novice.

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I realised belatedly that the reason I was so nervous was that I was, in the most literal sense of the phrase, “selling something” (and to an audience that was trapped for the duration, too). It’s impossible for a writer to truly know if a book is good or not (although being published certainly helps) and that’s why I always find book launch speeches so horrifying. I acquitted myself well enough, I think.

I’d described the launch to Louisette in advance, and she said she wanted to help with my speech, so when I got up I summoned her as well. She is an adorable child and was adorably serious about the entire process—but she stood bravely (by herself, because I needed to stay near the podium microphone). She was very pleased afterwards with her own courage. Hopefully this will lead her to be a confident public speaker, rather than turn her into a full-time writer (creative jobs have a high personal cost that I wouldn’t wish on anyone).

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Clothing is tricky while I’m still waiting for my stomach muscles to be put back together (not helped by weird sensory overstimulation stuff that tends to give me panic attacks if I wear new clothes), but I’d had an idea (on Friday) to adjust a favourite skirt, and that very much improved things for me.

My other main panic was that I’d simply forget to bring something essential. I started putting things in the car last Thursday, and although there were certain things I meant to do and didn’t, all the important pieces (such as a copy of the book to give away to the best costume, and having my kindle prepped on the podium for my reading) were in place.

This was all very much complicated by the fact that I’d gotten overenthusiastic and decided to write and run a Live Action Role Play game inside Questacon after the launch. But that’ll need its own entry 🙂

The tea duelling and catering was complicated by the fact that no outside food was allowed, and no food was allowed in the room. That meant paying a huge sum to the cafe (which reserved tables for us and did a great job from beginning to end) and having biscuits that were fresh and delicious but not the right kind for duelling. Although the cafe staff were excellent and the location classy, the lack of ability to bring in a pack of plain dry biscuits was annoying. Still, it was entertaining and it looks great in pictures (useful for media coverage, which is useful for selling books, which is the point). And even though we under-catered, most people were so distracted by the duelling that they didn’t eat or drink at all.

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The waltzing was a huge highlight. I had one couple primed to lead the way, and Louisette is an enthusiastic amateur. I figured I’d waltz with Louisette while my dancers hopefully lured a couple or two to join them over the course of the piece.

Actually, I danced with Chris the second the music started, and several other couples willingly took to the floor in an instant. The space was perfect (everyone moved the chairs back); roomy enough to dance without feeling either crowded or lonely.

It’s been a long time since Chris and I waltzed, and it was a lovely moment for both of us. I found out later that one of the other people dancing was stepping out (invited by a nearby acquaintance because Canberra is like that) for the first time since major surgery, and it made her realise she might be healthy enough to dance regularly again soon.

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Adrenalin does wonders in carrying my wreck of a body through things (in fact that’s probably part of why I do things like this—for a while, I feel normal). My muscles were freaking out last night as the adrenalin wore off, and today I’m weirdly sore in a dozen places (hence the nurofen). Luckily I’m not involved in the rest of the Canberra Writers Festival so I don’t need to do anything more strenuous than writing and napping for the rest of the day.

I still can’t quite believe how many people came.

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The launch was as close to perfect as it could be. The festival, venue, and volunteers were all top notch. Ultimately I wouldn’t change a thing.

Party Post-Mortem

Yesterday was TJ’s 2nd birthday party. It was also the family party/get-together for Chris… and my brother. And my nephew.

My brother didn’t actually come, which he probably enjoyed very much.

It all started with the knowledge that my parents were visiting Canberra that weekend. With four family birthdays around the same time, I had a think about the unique challenges of doing something all four (turning 2, 11, 36, and 37) would enjoy, and came up with the legitimately brilliant idea of going to Skyzone trampolining.

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The trampoling bit:

My poor nephew is six years older than the rest of his cousins, so he generally has a pretty boring time at any family events. THIS, however, he enjoyed. Epic win.

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TJ is pretty easily pleased, but he really, really liked this. Epic win.

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Chris injured his back during the night, and tends to get mildly depressed by his own birthdays. That + an attempt at jumping = epic fail. But he had fun anyway. TJ was hilarious.

After taking about fifty photos, I realised that our camera was changing its settings every time it was turned off. That was less than ideal, but at least I know now (and I’d taken some video since jumping pics are tricky at best already).

One of the cousins, looking artsy:

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I was really pleased to have all the grandparents there so they knew how TJ handled it (it’s VERY likely that the trampolining will be an annual family tradition). TJ was nice enough to pay special attention to my in-laws who really only showed up for him and Louisette. Epic win.

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Cost: high ($16/jumper) but ameliorated by saying, “No family presents”. (The grandparents still gave gifts, naturally – I chose most of them, and chose VERY well. Gifts for 2-year olds are so much fun!)

Planning: I asked staff about their busiest times, and chose 3-4pm as a result. It was noisy and crowded, but because almost all our kids were aged 0-5, we were able to go in the “littlies” area, AND have it almost entirely to ourselves. (And we had enough adults that the 11-year old was able to do his own thing and still be connected to the family.) Epic win.

When I found out not all the family would be coming, I decided to combine the “family” and “friends” birthdays, and (after checking it was okay with my mum and sister) I chose two kids to invite as TJ’s best friends. TJ loves them, and so do I (two REALLY nice, cheerful, and chilled-out little boys who are sufficiently flexible/confident to have fun at a noisy trampoline place), and I really really like every member of their family too. Both kids came, with was really cool. And they both had fun*. And I had zero anxiety about inviting a bunch of adults I’d never met before. Epic win.

For my kids, I generally have two special days for their birthday – a party, which is all about community, and a birthday day, which is all about the actual kid. (This mattered much more when they were turning 1. Most 1-year olds cry through their entire party – but “what the friends/family/I want” and “what the kid wants” are still often distinct.)

Surprises: Chris’ back injury wasn’t actually anyone’s fault. He didn’t have a great birthday (it was his birthday day, which was a bit sad – who wants to run a kid’s party on their own birthday?) but he’s taking Monday off for TJ’s birthday (the plan is to give TJ some attention and then ship him off to daycare) which will actually be a great day for him.

The kids and Chris were all quite grumpy all morning. (Louisette and I are always miserable before and after big events, which is unfortunate but at least I know it’s coming these days.)

A random girl decided TJ was in her way and she knocked him over and then was busily pushing him into the path of a pair of bigger kids that had come into our area by mistake. Chris spotted them and ran to intercept, getting there before TJ fully realised what had happened (or was jumped on). One of the four-year old girls with us saw the whole thing, and told Louisette that TJ had been bullied. Louisette immediately came and told me, and I assured her it was dealt with, and that she’d done exactly the right thing – which she had. Given how much I myself wanted to punch the bully, I was really impressed with the behaviour of “my” girls.

This entire weekend half of New South Wales is flooding, so my assumption of bad winter weather was extremely wise! Epic win. (Except the parking suuuuuuucked. I warned everyone that sessions started on the hour so they should be early, but my lot was the only group that arrived vaguely on time. I felt bad that they’d wasted so much money, but it’s not like it was my fault.)

*Some strangers had one of those mall ride-in cars parked nearby. One of TJ’s friends spend half an hour trying his best to flee the trampoline, meaning that his mum and I were unable to sit down but were constantly crash-tackling and wrestling him (which was fun too, but not exactly what we were aiming for). Eventually/wisely, she asked the random strangers if her son could sit in their car. Fortunately they said yes, and the kid was thrilled. After ten minutes in the car, he was able to enjoy the trampolines. #Random #alwaysonekid

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: Next time, I definitely need to bring water for the kids to drink!


Cake: I made an ice cream cake (thermomix for the win!) despite the season. It’s easy to make (essential when Louisette REALLY wants to help) and can be prepped quite a quite a while in advance. It’s also much yummier than regular cake (and actually neater to eat – spills are simpler to clean than crumbs, and travel less far from the table). Epic win.

I also made cupcakes with Louisette and TJ on the day. Like any sane person, they enjoyed the raw dough more than the finished product. (Louisette is obsessed with cupcakes, but only ever eats the top.) #worthit

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I put a candle on every cupcake, so each kid got to blow out (and thus spit on) their own cake. It was really easy for me, and really fun for them (and reducing birthday jealousy by a lot). Didn’t sing “Happy Birthday”. I hate that song. Epic win.

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We didn’t eat at Skyzone, which was definitely wise. Everyone came back to my house for cake etc (the promise of cake made the kids happy to leave Skyzone). Most of the guests had their own set of keys, so the two cars that arrived before us didn’t have to wait in the rain. Three potential catastrophes averted.

I was mildly concerned Louisette would ask for party games, but she was so busy she didn’t think of it. (Her favourite is pass the parcel, which is a nightmare to produce and another nightmare to adjudicate). Two catastrophes averted.

The main reason it felt so busy was…………..


……The climbing frame.

Our calendar has photos taken roughly a year ago (each month) so this month has a pic of TJ’s party last year (including the climbing frame). TJ saw the photo on the calendar and indicated he wanted to play on the climbing frame again. Since it was so extraordinary for him to have the ability to articulate any wants in advance, I was determined to comply (plus it’s a really great way to suddenly jazz up a homebound, housebound party).

I forgot to pick it up from the in-laws in advance of the party, and it was clear that every adult thought I was insane for insisting on it. It’s a fairly complicated thing with instructions that are only barely in English (and in quite an illogical order too), and about half the pieces are missing their labels. It’s also moderately difficult to take apart – even with the right tool, it hurts your fingers (and we didn’t have the right tool – we know someone who’s lent it to us twice before, but since I didn’t invite them to the party I chose not to request it this year).

On a good day it takes twenty minutes to put together. With seven kids around, it suuuuuuucked. I sent the four pre-school girls to another room, and was really impressed with their obedience. The process still sucked, and no one could really help much. But TJ really enjoyed the building process – and when it was done, he had an absolute blast climbing it (and so did the remaining kids).

For the kids, that was definitely way more exciting than the cake (or party games, for that matter).

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Surprises: I knew Louisette was fascinated by building and construction. This was the first time I saw that TJ has the same inclination. Next time, I’ll build the frame before the party and involve TJ and Louisette and Chris.

But TJ LOVED it. Epic win. #worththepain

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Surprises: The last two kids had a bath with mine, because they left well after bedtime and having a bath at our place meant they could go straight to bed. Their mum and I sat around a corner from the bathroom, after telling the pre-school girls to yell for us if anyone fell under the water. We listened carefully to them (patterns of speech and laughter and splashing) but at one point the girls yelled for us, and we came running. TJ had fallen under the water, and they had done exactly what we’d told them to do. (TJ had sat up again by himself – he actually does that a lot and has always gotten himself back up – excellent training for a real drowning crisis.)

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I’ll remember this party as the moment when Louisette stepped up as a big sister. (Not that I’d actually use her as a babysitter, but my trust in her good sense and awareness has increased dramatically.)

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(Not a great photo, but I kept it for Louisette’s facial expression mingled pride and watchfulness.)


Recovery: I’m quite sore today – back, feet, legs, arms, wrists (I’ve taken nurofen for the arthritis and will have a hot shower and then bandage my wrists soon). There are two bits of good news on that front. First, my pain is symmetrical, which is “normal” pain (as if I’d been moving house rather than just running a party, but no injuries). Second…no migraine! The meds I’m on are making me extremely drowsy (and unco), and I’m sleeping up to 14 hours per day BUT they do seem to be stopping the migraines. I get mild headaches some evenings, and the occasional flash of pre-migraine “aura” (visual weirdness which is a strong warning of impending migraine)….and that’s all. I’d expect three days of strong pain after a kids’ party. But maybe that time is over. Maybe I can actually do stuff – like driving, going outside, and exercising – without being wiped out for days afterwards.

The tips of my fingers all hurt from putting together (and partially taking apart) the climbing frame.

Psychologically, I’m in the black pit between anti-depressants (an unfortunate necessity for the new migraine meds) and it’s been very very bad for the last month or two. Stuff like thinking I need to give my children up for adoption. I feel a bit traumatised by the party, but the therapy I need is relatively simple: 1. This blog. 2. Sorting through the photos to prove to myself it was a good party, and special for the kids. 3. Some thoughts about adjusting expectations in future (some of the adults happily breezed through the party while I and one other person – a single mum who deserves to sit down and chat with grown-ups more than anyone else at the party – did 95% of the serving, cleaning, and supervising). If I know my friends think of the party as a social occasion for adults (a notion that  believe is sometimes possible with all pre-schoolers and older, but never possible with toddlers), then that changes how I set things up.

And I intend to have a thorough whinge-fest with Chris once the kids are asleep. (It should be noted that he attempted to help with the climbing frame but was gasping and moaning in pain so I told him to stop.)

Conclusion: Chris needs a day off – without kids – for his birthday. Otherwise, Skyzone is the biz, and is going to stay awesome for many years to come. When the kids are a fair bit older, we’ll probably invest in a full-scale party (Skyzone provides cake and food and a party room) one day, but will probably do something unclassy to ameliorate the expense (like making people pay their own way, as with this year).

I’ve been to a party at the other trampoline company (in a giant semi-converted warehouse in Mitchell that was less nice as a facility), and Louisette is still talking about it a year later.

All I really should have done better is:

(a) Take water to Skyzone. (And keep in mind that everyone will be late no matter what I say.)

(b) Build the climbing frame with my kids and husband, in advance.

(c) Have something lazy-but-fun for before and after big events when the bad mood strikes – maybe a new Pixar movie for all of us to watch together.

In fact I left the climbing frame half-assembled (not fully assembled because TJ’s climbing strategy lacks self-preservation and I knew Chris and I would both be dopey this morning and therefore unable to supervise safely), and have decided to rebuild it with my kids momentarily, and leave it up for TJ’s birthday day tomorrow.

Louisette Interview Age Four

Based on a set of questions from Crappy Pictures, I’ve interviewed Louisette around her birthday at age two, three, and now four:

 

Me: What job do you want to have when you grow up?

Louisette: LOTS of jobs. I want to be a waiter….and work in a cafe. And in the cafe I will make cupcakes. And cakes. And bread.

Me: What makes you feel happy?

Louisette: Being with Dad AND TJ… and you. And I’m with you right now, so I feel happy. And I feel happy when I’m eating bacon.

Me: If you had so much money you could buy absolutely anything, what would you buy?

Louisette: The same bag as anybody in the whole world.

Me: What is the meaning of life?

Louisette: I don’t know. That’s just a silly joke. I know! That’s the question.

Me: What do you love?

Louisette: You.

Me: What makes you feel loved?

Louisette: Dad and you and TJ

Me: What are you afraid of?

Louisette: Without being with a grown up.

Me: If you had one wish, what would you wish for?

Louisette: I wish I could fly.

Me: What is the funniest word?

Louisette: Clowny bowny.

Me: What is the hardest thing to do?

Louisette: Play golf.

Me: What is the easiest thing to do?

Louisette: Ah…aha! Play with a balloon. and make this picture.

Me: What is the best thing in the world?

Louisette: You and TJ and Dad.

Me: What is the worst thing in the world?

Louisette: TJ usually snatches from me so he’s the baddest.

Me: What makes you mad?

Louisette: Someone holding on tight of me and I want to get out.

Me: What is the meaning of love?

Louisette: Bun! [Giggles]

Me: If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with it?

Louisette: Buy a lot of things, like this (her own drawing). Well if we wanted to get a real slide then we need thousands and thousands of money to get that.

[later]

Me: What is life for?

Louisette: Are you getting sleepy?

Me: No Louisette, I just leaned my head back to hear what you’re saying  because we’re in the car. So what do you think life is for?

Louisette: For having…….life!

Me: Great answer.

Louisette: Now I’ll ask you a question.

Me: Okay.

Louisette: Why is Upside Down Town upside down?

Me: Because it’s silly.

Louisette: Why?

Me: Because silly is fun.

Louisette: Like Mr Klickety Kane?

Me: Yes! He’s VERY silly.

 

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Deadlines

I love deadlines.

That’s not sarcasm. The writing life consists largely of sitting alone in a room (or worse, sitting in the same room as young kids who I desperately hope are sufficiently distracted by the blaring TV) scowling at a screen as I invent worlds and people that absolutely no-one cares about except myself. Deadlines give me a sense of urgency and excitement that is sometimes sorely lacking. When a deadline is approaching I feel stressed, but (unless something else comes up and sends me hurtling over the edge) it also gives the sense that someone is waiting for that piece of writing – and that it matters.

Whether writing “matters” or not is a can of snakes that I won’t get into today. But, I do like deadlines.

At the moment I have four and a half deadlines coming up in the next month. Wheeeee!

One is for a novel submission that I promised someone I’d send in September (ish); two are for interactive fiction contests that are ending soon; and the other one and a half are for collaborative interactive fiction pieces (one of which I’m running, and the other of which I’m mostly acting as cheerleader while also writing a significant section).

Before I stumbled across the glorious cornucopia of interactive fiction (think “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories but better), I was going to make 2015 the year that I wrote a novel slowly. It would be an experiment in writing against my usual nature, and perhaps discovering that my writing was much better if I was less manic about it. Then I found interactive fiction, and by the end of September my total IF word count will be around the 150,000 mark (two large pieces, two medium, and two collaborations). So I’m not exactly writing slowly, particularly since that’s roughly three times my usual annual output.

A funny side effect happened due to the fact that when Choice of Games – absolutely my favourite IF engine and company (and they pay well too) – is considering taking on a project for its premier label, they require a detailed outline first. Those outlines always run over 5000 words, including loads of choices and their consequences. To put that in perspective, the last book I wrote was based on a story told to me by my then 2-year old. I did some googling, scrawled a map and a chapter outline (maybe 200 words) and was writing the book within three days. I finished it a few weeks later.

But the interactive piece I’m working on most at the moment – a fantastical pirate adventure called SCARLET SAILS – has a proper Choice of Games outline. And because I was waiting to hear back about a different project, I had to let it sit for a long time – which also meant I could discuss the basic plot with some intelligent people and discover major plot issues BEFORE I’d written a 50,000-word novel. So interactive fiction distracted me from slow writing, then brought me back to it.

The other interesting side effect of IF is that suddenly I’m collaborating. I’ve done that exactly once before, when I wrote a one-page play in high school. It barely counts as collaborating, since my (undying, I’m sure) prose wasn’t edited in any way except by the nature of performance. (I do remember one friend saying, “So I’m playing God? Mm’kay.” which was most definitely a positive comment on my casting choices.) I write because I LIKE sitting alone in a room inventing worlds and people out of nothing… and I like being the international expert and ultimate authority on every single aspect of my work. Like my actor friend, what I really want is God-like powers and unquestioning obedience.

But I also love a deadline. (I may have mentioned that.) So when someone on the IF forums at Choice of Games suggested some kind of game-writing jam, I leapt at the chance. I specifically said that I thought collaborations were a bad idea, and so naturally a few days after that I volunteered to lead what ended up being a cheesy 50s-style space adventure collaboration (and then someone asked me to whip their multi-genre bookshop collaboration into shape, and I gleefully did so).

And it is so. much. fun. It helps that everyone involved seems to have figured out that I will work very very hard to earn ultimate power, and so they say things like, “Go ahead and edit my bit however you like” which I’m pretty sure means I just became a benevolent dictator (and I LOVE it).

I will of course post an easy-to-play link here when the game is ready. It’s turning out surprisingly well (and the editor is fantastic). But here’s the front cover just to tease you.

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Credit for the space background: http://palnk.deviantart.com

Medical Drama of the Week

A few months ago I had post-partum surgery #1. I wouldn’t call it a success, exactly, but things did improve – so much so that I returned to work after a year and a half of unpaid sick time.

I didn’t return to my old work (there’s a long and fascinating story there which I do intend to tell someday), but to a brand new private babysitting gig. It’s a very easy job, and is JUST within my capability at the moment. I’ve completed three weeks with no dramas, and I’m starting to feel vaguely competent. Also, I really like the family – and I get to take my kids along some of the time too. I adore watching kids interact with each other, so taking my kids along is much more than convenient – it makes the job glow.

About a month ago I saw a surgeon for post-partum surgery #2. He was a stranger to me, and I hoped going into the appointment that he’d be going over surgery stuff (fasting, etc), and giving me a bunch of pamphlets to read over. Instead he told me that although I certainly needed surgery, my GP might have misdiagnosed me (with a large gap in my abdominal muscles – a common post-pregnancy thing) and the public health system would therefore not cover me. He sent me to get a CT scan.

The CT scan was cool. I lay down on a table experiencing wacky effects from the contrast injection, all while alone in a giant room as the mechanical table passed me back and forth through a large ring, and a mechanical voice told me periodically to hold my breath. The ring part reminded me of Stargate.

The results were sent to the surgeon and to my GP.

My GP knows my entire family (four generations of us!) and I have so many medical dramas that I just keep a list of non-urgent things and then when someone is properly sick (eg Louisette had bronchitis last week) I take them all in to get sorted out. I went in for something else and asked for the CT results.

It turned out that why yes I DO have an abdominal gap…. of nine centimetres. So my guts are literally hanging out. (The abdominal muscles separate in every pregnancy, but generally go back together – or at least within a couple of centimetres.) This is brilliant news, because it means that I can still get the surgery I need, plus I feel like way less of a wimp now.

The CT also revealed two other things. One is a minor thing, but will probably require preventative surgery all the same (I’m hoping that it can be done at the same time as my stomach, but we’ll see – I’ll ask the surgeon on Thursday, when I next see him). It’s interesting mainly because I went to two different doctors a couple of months ago because of intense pain in my side. After googling, I figured it was appendicitis. They both said it was “yeah I dunno” and the pain faded after a few days, leaving me feeling kinda dumb. Actually it’s a splenal hemangioma – which sounds bad, but it basically just a benign lump – but one that’s big enough (2.2cm) that it really should be chopped out. The funny thing is that I would have come across splenal hemangiomas in my googling, and dismissed them for being too rare. Presumably this also means that I’m infested with dozens of fascinating diseases that haven’t yet been seen in Australia.

The other thing revealed by the CT scan is damage to my spine – damage that is degenerative.

The up side is that I feel a lot better about all the times I’ve chosen not to lift a kid/stand up/help someone/change a nappy/etc because of my back. The down side is that bones are a bit tricky to fix. Also, I’m not sure if it’s degenerative (that is, getting worse) because of the stomach stuff (which will be fixed), because of my usual bad posture (which is not an easy thing to fix, especially when everything already hurts), or because of my body just being annoying/aging.

And a big part of my post-partum depression has been fear of further injury due to picking up/playing with my kids. That fear had been fading, but now it’s been given a new lease of life. Congratulations?

Again, something to talk to the surgeon about.

And here’s TJ in his best suit, because why not?

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Reflections on a Scrapbooking Mania

Today was my daughter’s third birthday party. It started at 9:00am. I was up until 2:00am scrapbooking – again. Why on Earth would I do that?

I know why.

Last June, Louisette became a big sister. It was also the time when we realised she was now actively forming memories – which meant that if we took her somewhere cool, she would (a) Actually enjoy it, and (b) Maybe even remember it. I take quite a few photos, and I realised that we could reinforce her memories by talking about them, over and over, and looking at pictures – plus maybe buying a toy memento (each time we’ve gone somewhere with animals, we’ve bought a soft toy).

The first big excursion was to Sea Life Aquarium in Sydney (taking decent photos in an aquarium is HARD). Then the Dinosaur Museum in Canberra (where I accidentally scared her by holding her RIGHT up to the mouth of a dinosaur, thinking it was a statue – then getting a huge shock for both of us when it turned out to be an animatronic on a sensor). Then the beach with my parents. Each one of these got a large poster with photos and stickers, plus sandpaper for the beach (and the dinosaurs had “fossils” that Louisette collected herself thanks to “My Pet Dinosaur” who brought two small animatronics and a lot of fun to her daycare. . . greatly assisting in the recovery process from her scare at the Museum).

When I talked to a friend about the posters, she said, “Why don’t you do a scrap book, so you can just keep adding to it?”

Brilliant!

The idea kicked around in my mind – with the focus on TJ, of course, because his birth was by far our biggest family event post-Louisette. And so it was that I sorted through the three months’ worth of daily photos, picked the best or most significant of the lot, and printed them at Kmart – buying a purple binder, a pack of scrapbooking paper, and stickers to go with them. Along the way it became more than a repository for memories. It became a therapy tool, to help Louisette process her new role as big sister. And it became a powerful piece of propaganda.

All photos are propaganda, in a way. Family photos almost always carry the same motto, writ large and sometimes ironically across every picture – WE ARE HAPPY.

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The message is so common that a large number of people reflexively cringe at it, particularly when there are a lot of photos with the same message over and over and over again until it starts sounding more and more like an insult to the everyday shabbiness and complexities of life. Sometimes it’s a message designed for others to see – defensive, or even bullying (“Look at my beautiful life/family. I am better than you”). Other times it is a desperate question – “Are we happy? Is this happy?” Still other times it is a desperate lie, spoken by people who know something is wrong but do not know how to fix it except by catching a fleeting moment that seems to have everything in the right order (husband, kids, dog, car, etc).

It is always complicated.

I took photos of Louisette every day for the first year. In the early days, as I sorted photos and saw a smile, a curled-up fist, or bare toes perfectly caught in pictures before they changed forever, I realised photos were a kind of therapy. A message to myself saying, “Look! Actually, today was a good day. Maybe not the whole day, but this moment was good. Keep this one, and throw away the rest.” It was also a message saying, “It doesn’t feel like it, but this time is going very quickly. See how her face has already changed! And again!”

Those two messages – “There WAS a good bit today” and “This too shall pass – and fast” are so much more important to me this second time, with PPD and a feeling like I’m failing both of my kids simultaneously almost every day.

But I was talking about Louisette. That first scrapbook is loaded with propaganda phrases such as, “Louisette is so gentle with him!” (Saying it makes it come true.) It also contains many of the phrases that Louisette herself has repeated over and over, for whatever reason (she tends to acquire language by repeating a phrase lots of time, and she’s working out her emotions the same way), such as, “Two boys, two girls.”

That was a lot of fun. I felt like I’d given Louisette something both loving and useful, and I also had a beautiful object, something to do with all those photos, and reinforcement for my own story (“We’re doing fine. This is okay. . .”). I was on a high.

A few weeks later, feeling depressed, I decided to make a scrapbook of Louisette’s babyhood, in order to celebrate her achievements and help her understand that TJ won’t always be as. . . well, boring and fragile. . . as he is now. TJ had just started sleeping on his own during the day (rather than in my arms). We bought supplies together, and I got to work. And he woke up. And I had to go pick up Louisette in a couple of hours. And everything was spread out in complicated piles on the table (“Photos of kids lying down looking cute”, “That time the kids played together in the backyard pool”). I freaked out utterly and sent an SOS to my sister, who came over and held TJ so I could finish the thing.

I finished the thing. Later on I updated the original “TJ and Louisette” book, and did a whole one just for TJ’s first six months (why? For me I guess, because I sure can’t think of anyone else who’d really be interested).

Lately I feel like Louisette has had enough of people talking about TJ. So for her birthday I made her a scrapbook that picks up where the “Louisette as a baby” book ends – her first birthday – and is actually about toddlerhood rather than babies. This one goes from her first birthday to her third (today; I left pages blank at the end). It was 80 double pages long in the end, which JUST managed to fit into the 20-page binder I’d bought (along with three packs of refill sleeves). It’s time for Louisette to hear about how special and wonderful and talented and beautiful she is RIGHT NOW, rather than two years ago (much as I do genuinely appreciate the fact that she can walk).

So that’s why I do scrapbooking. It’s a story to tell Louisette – and myself – that my kids are loved, that we have nice times despite all the heat and panic and irritability that I remember, and that things are getting better all the time. These are the stories that matter – they heal wounds and give hope, and they make us all better for the reading.

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But now it’s almost 9:00pm and I need to get to BED.

 

Plans Made While Pregnant

When I was pregnant with Louisette, I wrote down some of the stuff CJ and I were desperately looking forward to doing with our kids. Lately, Louisette is old enough to appreciate most of these, so I’ve added comments – three years after writing that list.

And on to today’s official topic! Here, in no particular order, are some of the plans CJ and I are looking forward to doing with our future children (and yes, there are some significant differences in the costs or age-relevance of these items):

Take the kids to the zoo.

I’m deliriously excited about taking Louisette to the zoo for her third birthday in January. She still talks about going to the aquarium a couple of months ago (partly because we made a poster with the photos in order to consolidate her memories), and the zoo should blow her mind.

Buy a house with a yard (but make the kids share a room – if we can all stand it).

We have a yard now! Also a trampoline and cubby house. When TJ starts mostly sleeping through the night, we’ll move both kids into the bigger bedroom (with a backup mattress elsewhere, for bad days/nights). I’m hoping it’ll happen this year.

Take the kids to Questacon, especially in Winter.

We’re on our second year of having an annual membership. It’s so good to always have a fun place to go that’s reasonably well contained and safe – and inside.

Play with plasticine, and playdough, and make potato stencils.

Turns out I’m still terrified of playdough (grind some into your carpet and you’ll soon see why) so I’ll probably get into that only when the kids are quite a bit older and neater. BUT I built up the courage to make painting a part of our lives, and Louisette and I have painting sessions – inside, even! – quite often. I’ll have to use potatoes someday.

Buy primary-school popularity for the kids by having a pool.

I still like this idea, but it’s extremely unlikely our yard or budget will handle an in-ground pool. Still, younger kids just want water, so I hope it’ll still happen. In the meantime, we have those blue plastic shells for paddling, which is lots of fun – even TJ has endured a go.

Expand the house (or shove CJ out of his study) so the kids get their own rooms around the onset of puberty.

Our house has three bedrooms and a converted garage, so CJ and I will most likely share the garage (as we’re doing at the moment, with difficult) as a study and the kids will have the actual bedrooms. I’m hoping that we’ll feel less cramped when we can give away the last of the baby paraphernalia (porta-cot, stroller, etc)

Have a granny flat so the kids can be “neighbours” for a while between living at home and moving out. Charge rent based on their income, until it reaches market value.

It wouldn’t be easy, but we could re-work our house to accommodate that. Probably by having the master-and-ensuite set up as a self-contained flat (with electrical cooking appliances – I lived in a similar arrangement back in the day) for one of the kids, and the garage set up for CJ and I (we’d enter the house from that direction; it has a door and will someday have windows).

Play with frisbees.

We own a Frisbee – I even know where it is – but I suspect the running and fetching would be too much at the moment.

Fly a kite.

Louisette is just old enough (according to CJ), so this will happen soon.

Take them to Canberra’s best playgrounds (the castle, and the snake playground).

We’ve been to both of those playground in the last month 🙂 Lots of fun!

Go camping with my brother and his family.

He’s just about to have a second child (of hopefully lots) so there’s still a long time to wait until our kids are up to camping. Not to mention me.

Lots of cousin time! (My sister and her family might even be living in Canberra, which would mean all my direct siblings are here in one city!!)

Yes! Louisette and my TJ and my sister’s girls see lots of each other, and it’s wonderful!

Go paddle boating.

We’ll need to wait until the kids’ feet can reach the pedals. . .

Rent a four-person bike.

When TJ can reliably sit up, this can happen.

 

There are quite a few cool things not on this list – CJ takes Louisette to playgrounds on his bike, and she and I often cook together. And there’s plenty more excitement still to come.

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Party Time

Louisette is turning two, so we had a party this morning. It has been my belief for a while that first birthday parties are about the parents celebrating having kept their bundle of joy alive for a whole year. It’s certainly not about the child, who is usually terrified by the whole thing, and spends their party crying (we were lucky; Louisette is a very social creature and she had a great time. I think it also helped having it in an unfamiliar environment, so she didn’t get thrown by a whole crowd being in her safe place).

This year’s birthday party, in my mind, was all about school. Louisette is in day-care (has been for about six months – long enough for her to have genuine friendships), and the centre is also a school, which she and her friends will attend (and where I work – putting me in the peculiar position of knowing the children very well, and the parents not at all – I learnt several names for the first time because of this party). I invited her whole class, and ended up with all three of the other girls (awesome! A full set!) and one of the boys. My ambition was to get a photo of all four girls together, and I technically succeeded twice – this is the better one:

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I’m pleased with that, despite the facial expressions. I also caught the three girl cousins together –

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Louisette was thrilled with her balloons and with her paint (we bought the paint for the party, and this was the first she knew of it):

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It was a raging success, I think. Today’s weather, like at her party last year, was always going to be hot – over thirty degrees – but fortunately my parents bought us a gazebo for Christmas (we had NO idea, and it’s just brilliant and beautiful), and my father-in-law brought over a huge length of shadecloth and clipped it to the roof and fence – turning half the yard into a kind of tent. That meant we were able to stay outside, which meant that all the post-party mess is out there – all the crumbs, all the water (there was water play too!), all the icing smears, all the paint, all the watermelon juice! The difference in post-party stress levels is amazing. Half of it gets hosed away or put straight in the wheelie bin. This was SO much easier than last year, when everything had to be carried to and from a park, because we had nowhere else to go.

Louisette had fun, and so did I. The stress of it was enough to make me physically sick beforehand (my pregnancy is severely messing with me) but I feel very good about it all now – and it was enjoyable during the party, too. I lay down afterwards to recover and was trying to think of anything I could have done better, and I basically came up with one thing: A bigger water jug for outside.

In my hormone-addled mind, that is a truly epic achievement. It was very brave of me to invite people who I fundamentally don’t know, and to get into (washable) paint for the first time (ever seen a group of toddlers with paint?). I’m terribly impressed with myself, knowing I could never have pulled this kind of event off a few years ago – let alone while sick (I’m not even going into work this year – at all).

(And CJ managed to set up a slideshow of Louisette photos, for which I was very grateful – I spend MANY hours sorting through the last year of Louisette pics, and a birthday slideshow was the perfect result.)

Battles Lost, Won, and Ongoing

Destruction of Books (board and pages)

We have a LOT of books just for Louisette. About a hundred paper books, and thirty board books (most of them secondhand, hence the sheer bulk). She loves playing with them, and rarely actively destroys them – yet. So this battle hasn’t truly joined yet, and may never occur. If I notice her tearing a book apart, I’ll generally say, “No tearing. Gentle.” and put it on a high shelf. Pop-up books are doomed from birth, though.

Score: Parents: 1 Books: 1

TV/Computer

CJ and his dad both have ADD (now called ADHD whether there’s a hyperactive component or not – which, mercifully, there isn’t in this case) and some research suggests that cutting out TV altogether for at least the first two years may help limit its effects. So we decided, with a healthy amount of caveats (including the all-encompassing, “Well, we’ll just see how it goes”) to try to never watch TV or use the computer when Louisette was in the room. We made exceptions for holidays, for when I was babysitting other children, and for those few seconds as I set a show to tape – but we did it. At least, we did it for TV. Perhaps even more remarkably, CJ almost never uses his iphone when Louisette is around (this is a man who will play on his phone while watching TV – welcome to ADHD). This means a lot to me in terms of modelling polite human-to-human behaviour – something her generation will need a lot of help with.

But we slid slowly and surely into “Meh” on the computer front. We don’t play videos when she’s in the room, but everything else is fair game – even when it’s me alone with her (emailing, checking I have at least one not-too-blurry pic for the day, etc). She limits this to a certain extent by simply not liking it – I’ll do emails and look at photos, but I won’t write novels or browse the net if she’s with me (unless CJ is playing with her).

Overall, we’ve done pretty well.

Score: Parents 1, Meh 1.

Hats

I’ll generally put a hat on her as we go outside (and one for me too, for role modelling). She’ll generally take off her hat and play with it.

Score: Parents 0, Louisette 1.

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Socks/shoes

As soon as the weather got above really cold we let her go barefoot. It was conveniently timed for just after she started actively removing her socks every three seconds.

In late November she began showing signs of walking soon, so we girded our loins and went to buy shoes – only to find they’re not recommended for several months yet.

Score: Pretty much even…so far.

Food/mess vs independence

Feeding Louisette has been pretty miserable from day one (no, that’s not quite true – it was day four that things really turned sour). Breastfeeding problems & machines, breastfeeding in public and while travelling, wind (much screaming), reflux (much screaming), teething (screaming), hatred of sitting still and especially being buckled in (screaming), longing for full eating independence (screaming).

Louisette neatly solved the dilemma of, “Should I keep breastfeeding when I desperately hate it?” by refusing to breastfeed at all from three months of age (this is a fight I won’t waste myself over nearly so much next time).

We started her on solids pretty early, and I was SO excited about things getting better feeding-wise. They got so much worse, and stayed that way for months. But nowadays they’re pretty good. Mostly. I walk the line between Louisette’s growing independence/screaming about her lack of independence and the desire to keep her semi-chewed food out of my hair, clothes, ears, furniture, and rental property. At the moment her breakfast and lunch have a spoon-fed section (for messy things such as stewed fruit and yogurt, or meat) and then a larger self-fed section (toast, grated cheese and vegetables, crackers), and I shake out her drop cloth up to three times a day (we have no yard and no grass so at some point one of our neighbours will politely ask me to stop depositing cheese etc into the communal carpark each day. Or possibly they’re glad about the increased bird life). She has a water bottle on a low table that she drinks from often, and generally goes through two or three outfits a day. She also hates bibs, and pulls them off (we start with two – one cloth one plastic – at each meal).

For most younguns, spoon feeding is neater. This (and much screaming) is what happened at lunch a few days ago, when I attempted to spoon feed her from a packet rather than letting her (mostly) self-feed (she started with two bibs, as per usual):

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Score: Hard to say. Things are getting better on both sides, but I still dread all her meals, and both of us get desperately frustrated sometimes. Sidebar: It is hot enough inside that grated cheese will melt and stick to any surface (cloth, plastic, wood, metal, etc).

Snatching

This is a battle that has to start early and never stop. Louisette often interacts with other very young kids, and I intervene every single time I see either party snatch from the other. This gets very repetitive very fast, but that’s just the way it is. She has already shown signs of improvement, however, so that’s good.

Parents: Almost 1. Louisette: Approximately 0

Respect to cats (and dogs)

Again, this battle has to start early and never stop. She got her first cat scratch the other day (very very minor, and washed with antiseptic), which I was hoping wouldn’t happen for another six months or so, but neither party was actually injured and I think they both learned something. Louisette is pretty darn good with the cats. Ana will approach her (nervously, but she IS a cat after all) for a pat.

Parents: 1. Louisette: .5 Cats: .5

Please and thank you/ta

I keep forgetting to say ta instead of thank you. I can’t remember if I say please.

Parents: 0 Manners: Non-existent.

Safety – electrical cords, heights, water

Despite her determination, I still don’t let Louisette play with electrical cords. Ever. She never goes to any place anywhere without going to the cords at least once (the ones in our living room, kitchen, and her room are all gaffa taped and/or hidden, which is a mercy).

She can get down off the couch safely 99 out of 100 times, and no longer tries to go headfirst off furniture. I’m working on teaching her how to get down off higher things (such as her change table) because she’ll soon be climbing onto them. She climbed onto a couch for the first time yesterday.

After MUCH effort, she will now put her full face underwater and blow bubbles. She loves the water, and if she ever manages to fall into a body of water she won’t necessarily panic herself to death.

Parents: 3 Baby:0

Dirty face/clothes

She’s pretty much always 90% clean or more. Her mum has inclinations towards OCD. So. . . yay?

Parents: 1 Baby: 0

Respectable hair/long hair

I really wanted to grow her hair long as fast as possible, so tried so so hard to train her hair to go sideways (rather than directly over her face). Once she started pulling out her own hair clips and ties, it got harder. At last I realised this was a stupid battle and once her hair was heavy enough it’d all work fine. So I cut a fringe.

Parents: 0 Rationality: 1

Sleep

We tried a bit of controlled crying (that’s when you let the child cry a little while before going in to comfort them, so they eventually learn to sleep without you there) when she was very young. It was, in my opinion, far too young. From 2-4ish months she settled only with us holding her hand (and with a dummy etc, although she did and does have the ability to fall asleep almost anywhere). From 4-11 months we needed to be in the room, within sight. Then she started really getting into playing, “Fetch my dummy and/or I’ll scream at you” so in the Christmas holidays we did controlled crying again, and (except for a few times when she got her leg trapped between the bars) it went very smoothly, and is now about 90% reliable. We just say, “Good night Lizzie, sleep tight” and walk out. It still takes her up to an hour to actually sleep, but she does it by herself. Amazing! In my opinion, we timed the controlled crying perfectly the second time. She was old enough to not get upset, but young enough that she couldn’t climb out of the cot and lose all chance of settling.

Parents: 1 Baby: 0

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There are plenty of battles still to come, but that’s plenty for now. The main thing is that we’ve all survived so far.

Parents: Infinity. Baby: Infinity.