Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Eglantine Christmas

This is one of those muzzy catch up posts with no particular point, so if you're hoping to find the meaning of Christmas I suggest you look here or here (depending on where your spiritual beliefs lie).

December began with Martin working, me at home with Avery and no car or public transport and the problem of getting Una to and from kinder (which is a ten minute drive on open roads at 80km/h and so not at all walkable) in the lead up to her kinder play (in which she had a Very Important Role) and a fugitive on the loose in our town. Somehow I got through it with minimal upset, despite sleep deprivation and crappy weather and a few days of acute cabin fever. Most of my Christmas shopping has been done online, trawling through websites until my tired eyes are dry and squinty. Luckily we have lovely neighbours, which means I've been able to regularly interact with people who are not me. And good friends who have taken the girls out or fed them dinner. And good family, including my mother in law who has regularly driven up from Blackburn to do the school and kinder run.

Despite everything (or because of) we have attempted to keep up the Advent activity house tradition. Popular activities have included: making Christmas pinatas, making and decorating gingerbread houses, playing parlour games (he said, she said which was HILARIOUS and featured a lot of toilet humour), and getting the girls to write their own activity together (they agreed on the zoo with no fuss).

Una was brilliant in her kinder play, in which she played the lead (if not the title) role of the bossy emu in Wombat Divine, and then she graduated, with a hat and everything, which would have been extremely tacky if I'd been able to see it through the TEARS. Fred was great in her school play too - though her role was part of the chorus she proved that there are no small roles, she was really switched on and clearly knew exactly what she was doing. She sang in a clear, sweet voice, which carried over the little community hall (oh yes, all right, I am a Proud Parent). The funny thing was the topic of the play was wobbly teeth, and a few days before the performance she got her very first wobble (and a day after she lost that tooth, which she tells me led to an impromptu encore performance of the play in class - aww).

Avery also got his first cold last week and on Saturday night developed a nasty wheeze and cough and seemed to be breathing a little fast. We were sure he was probably fine, but rang the maternal health line, and then Martin's mum (who used to be a nurse) and in the end took him to Box Hill Emergency, dropping the girls off at their Nana's first. They seemed to think it was Something. We were lucky enough to be put in a private Infectious Diseases room (woohoo!), sealed with a glass door, with our own ensuite, and a kitchen round the corner with sandwiches and hot milo. Avery's breathing improved pretty much the moment we arrived at Emergency so we relaxed and enjoyed our Saturday night date. It turned out he had bronchiolitis, but all his stats were good so we were sent home, with strict instructions to ring an ambulance if he was having trouble breathing. But it was obvious he was on the mend, and he has continued to improve. He even slept for five uninterrupted hours last night.

And now it is holidays and we are all at home. We are waiting on our tax returns so we can get a car loan and then a car. We are Christmas cooking and scowling at the rain and smiling at the sunshine. We are getting on each other's nerves and singing Christmas carols in the car and busying ourselves and playing games together and reading books and eating dinners and going for walks and to the library and cooing at the baby. Martin and I are quietly buying big screen televisions. Avery is prodigiously growing and even Una and Fred look bigger. We are grocery shopping and some of us are eating too many lollies and some of us aren't because some of us have to book in a diabetes test for next week. We have encountered the odd Santa (both in the occasional sense and in the weirdy sense) and continued to add decorations to the Christmas tree and opened many cards and forgot to send any and I bought shoes on the Internet.

AND THAT BE THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS (oh look, there it was, all this time).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This be the tale

On Sunday the 14th we had a day of busyness and reflection. Martin went and picked up the St Andrews Cradle, a beautiful tradition for the babies of the area, which deserves a blog post of its own. He finished setting up our room for the baby and washed our bed sheets. I wrote that last blog post about being ready. We pottered around home mostly, did a quick drive to Diamond Creek to top up on a few things (including some new needles and paper strips for my blood monitor, which are now sitting unopened in the kitchen).I'd felt different for a few days - a little weepier for one, and irritable with the kids, and for the first time since I'd altered my diet for the diabetes I found myself inclined to having short naps. If I'd been a cat I would have found a cardboard box in a cupboard to hide in. The baby's head was lower (he "engaged" at about 38.5 weeks) and I was feeling calm about the approaching birth. I was suspecting I would not get to my due date (on which I had a doctor's appointment to talk about the possibility of an induction, about which I had very mixed feelings).

I made a chicken curry for dinner to use up the remainder of a roast, very mildly spiced, with a quick homemade apple and sultana chutney and corn on the cob and rice for Martin and the girls. I went for a walk. Not a long one. Some nights I'd been walking 5km or more, but over the past few days I'd found I didn't have as much energy for long sustained walks. I took some photos in the bush, almost as if I knew that these long last days of pregnancy were coming to an end and I wanted to record this experience – the evening walks will be some of my most cherished memories of what will be my last pregnancy. I came home. Martin was bathing the children, Fred was hiding in the lounge room, shushing me not to give her position away. I slipped off to bed. Just before Una went to bed she came in, all pink and clean, and gave me a long cuddle on the bed, pressing her head against the baby, and we talked about what it would be like when he was born.

After she went to her own bed, I drifted off to sleep. I woke up to a text from Martin. "Coming home soon?" I texted back: "Look harder." He came down to the bedroom to find me, stroked my forehead, and then sat down at his computer in the little study off our room. A few minutes later, I felt a prolonged liquid trickle.

"I think my waters are breaking," I said to Martin who immediately leapt up. I got up too (not so much with the leaping) and went the toilet to investigate. There wasn't the floods that came when I went into labour with Fred, but something had spilled. We called the hospital (I had tested positive for Strep B, one of those annoying but unserious complications, which means you have to have antibiotics every four hours in labour and you need to get two lots in if you don't want them faffing about with your baby afterwards). They said to come in and check it out. Martin rang his mum and Lisa, our lovely next door neighbour, came over to watch the kids until their Nana arrived. The kids were asleep.

We got to the hospital and the midwives and registrar played fun games with speculums until they decided that yes, it was my waters (probably just a little leak of my hindwaters). Then we had the Fun Conversation with the birthing suite docs about how because I was strep B I should be induced, but luckily I'd had this conversation before, since the same thing happened with Fred. I knew I had 18 hours in the birth centre to progress into labour on my own, and this is what I chose to do. They were closing down the birth centre, as we were the only ones in it and the birthing suites were understaffed. But we got to stay anyway, and eerily enough had the whole birth centre to ourselves. After some more jiggery-pokery with needles (they put a cannula in my hand for the antibiotics) and a bit of baby monitoring, we had our evening milo and went to bed, Lauren the midwife leaving us her extension in case something happened. I couldn't resist a quick tweet before I went to bed.

I slept on and off, contractions getting more painful, coming and going, about 6 minutes apart. I got up for a while in the night and sat in the eerily deserted lounge of the birth centre.

I woke Martin up at about 6, ready to get the show on the road. The contractions kept coming, sometimes intense, sometimes a little milder, not exactly clockwork, but regular enough for me to know I was in labour. Now here's the weird bit. No matter how much I talked about contractions, frequency, intensity none of the midwives really thought I was in labour. Right up till about 11 o'clock they were talking about sending me down the hall to the birth suite to be induced. I put this down to hypnobirthing - I'd done a course because labour with Una had been so long and the second stage so protracted and a little brutal, I was actually shitscared quite anxious about the birth (for the first time). The course had been good, we learned some different positions for labour, practiced calm breathing, ran through some visualisations. And many of the things we learned and talked about came back to me during labour. The relaxation tape had a woman with a funny old British accent and I've lost count of the number of times Martin and I made fun of her saying "limp and loose and heavy". And yet that mantra ran through my head in the early parts of labour and helped me to relax through each contraction. Later on I counted down from eight with each long breath, knowing that the "surge" (nice way of saying pain) would peak at about 6 or 5 and that after that it would subside with each breath. If I got to one and the contraction was still going, I would just repeat one over and over in my head (and the word one is quite a nice word to meditate on). The midwives kept hassling me to get up and get moving to "get things started" but I kept ending up on the bed, breathing through the contractions.

At about eleven, a little fed up I asked the midwife to give me an internal. I said I thought I might even be near transition, since I was ready (if she told me I hadn't made any/much progress) to nick off down the hall to the birth suite and get myself an epidural. Though quietly I knew I was in labour. She said "I don't think you're in transition, but I can always give you a stretch and sweep." (which is something they do to induce you before you start really dilating). And I said I could feel the pressure in my bum and she said "wouldn't it be funny if..." and it was funny because as she examined me she said "Oh! You're about 5cm dilated, no 6, oh...maybe even a bit more..." Which meant no more talk about inductions. "I can feel your forewaters bulging," she told me. "Do you want me to break them?" I thought about it. I had a suspicion that once my waters broke it would be all over red rover, and I decided to give the baby and my body more time. I tried the gas, it did absolutely nothing, but holding onto Martin was perfect, so with every contraction I leaned into his chest with my arms around his neck and took my strength from him, breathing 8, 7, 6, 5... Amazingly at this stage I actually nodded off between contractions, having strange flashes of dreams: red and white checked tablecloths hanging on a stone wall.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, about an hour or so later, feeling the baby was ready, and feeling the urge to push, I got Martin to get her and she got all the stuff ready to break my waters. It seemed to take ages for her to gather it all together. They lowered the bedhead, she poked inside me with her poking stick and broke my waters and a tidal wave came out. Seriously. She was almost washed away. I've had the line from Where the Wild Things Are in my head ever since: "And an ocean tumbled by..."

And I flipped over on my stomach and began to breathe the baby out. And (at this point another midwife had come in, the same midwife who had helped Una be born) they said "maybe just a little push to get him round the bend" (female anatomy is a funny thing) and so I pushed and out he came. "Stop pushing!" they cried. "Breathe! Breathe!" He stuck his head out, opened his mouth and shouted while the midwife fiddled around with the shoulders and then more fluid and then he was there, out in the world and it was over. And despite all the oogidy boogidy predictions through the whole pregnancy:

big baby...

fourth degree tear...

blood transfusion...


he was a teeny 7 pounds 11 ounces or 3.61kg, I didn't bleed, didn't tear and everything was perfect.

Today is Monday. He is one week old. We are home alone, Martin has gone to work, Fred is at school, Una is at creche. Avery is sleeping. This is my life now. This is the world I live in. Lucky me. I even love the nightfeeds, creeping out to the loungeroom with Avery, listening to Agatha Christie radio plays as Avery feeds and watches the dark with careful eyes.

As for me, I feel clear-headed and well, though I am still recovering and taking it easy. I haven't come home and binged on all the forbidden fruits of a gestational diabetes pregnancy - instead I've been enjoying the luxury of eating a WHOLE wholegrain roll for lunch with avocado, tuna and green leaf mix. I am so glad not to be testing my blood sugar anymore and feeling that little rhythmic anxiety between my blood drawing up into the strip and the beep-beep and flash of the tell-tale numbers. I'm enjoying not having to spend quite so much time thinking about what I can and can't eat. I am already back to the weight I was when I got pregnant with Avery. At six weeks (which happens to be my birthday) I have to do another glucose challenge test (ack ack horrible drink) to see if I am diabetes free. Whatever the outcome, I think the way I eat now is a lesson I've learned for life, and I hope to keep up with it, albeit to a more moderate degree.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Avery Miles Russon-Jorgensen

Born November 15th just before 2pm, 7lb11oz (or 3.61kg), 52cm long.
Will post full story later, promise. And more pictures.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Little Decisions

We've decided on a name (I think).
We've decided on a birth plan.
I've decided on which non-GD friendly treat to pack in my labour bag (Green & Blacks 70%, so not entirely out there - I think I will need some deprogramming before I can attempt a chocolate filled croissant).
We've decided to use disposables instead of cloth, at least over summer. Fred and Una were both exclusively cloth in their first year and mostly in cloth after that, so this isn't a light decision, but we have a tank that's built for 2 and we already struggle keeping up with the laundry for 4.
I've decided on a position to give birth, should the stars align and the baby want to come out that way.
We've decided on a car loan, after my Nissan died a sad but probably timely death, on the upward rise of a hill, in school traffic between two blind corners and I had to be rescued first by a kindly V drinking very thin man in blue overalls who rolled my car backwards down the hill and parked it for me, and then by Karen who came and picked me up from the side of the road and then picked up Una from kinder and Fred from school. We have decided to wait till after the birth to buy another car. I can't drive Martin's car because it's a manual and until March I am only licensed to drive autos. Yesterday's rain and two fighting kids conspired to make me feel rather low, but today though overcast the rain has stayed away and I've already managed one walk. The kids are still driving me nuts - they're tired, and strung out, waiting for the baby, and thrown by the sudden loss of the car and the subsequent interruption to routine.

I've also decided I'm ready (a week ago I wasn't ready for a baby at all), but I am happy to wait too. There's no reason to think I'll go early (Una was 2 weeks late). I have an appointment on Friday the 19th (my due date) to talk about inductions, but the last word on that is that because my blood sugar readings have been so good and there are no complications, they are happy for me to continue (with monitoring). The only thing is that being monitored might be complex, considering I have no car, Martin will be working, and there is no public transport out here. But, like any overdue pregnancy, we'll take it one day at a time.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Still here - 36.5 weeks

For some reason I cannot get into twitter, on my computer or my phone, and haven't been able to since late last week. This has led to a somewhat heightened productivity on my part about which I can't complain, but it has also led to a few emails asking if everything is, um...okay?

Things are fine. I have not fallen down a mine shaft, I am not giving birth on some remote hill, or wandering the bush clutching a baby with wildflowers knotted in my hair nor am I in hospital under surgeon's lights, the baby is firmly within.

We had a scan last week to check out the size of the baby. They are notoriously unreliable, but we decided to believe her when she said it looked like he was about 6lb10oz or just on 3kg. Even factoring in an average growth pattern, he will be smaller than Una by their estimates, and I feel sure that is the case too. It was exciting to see him again, I am looking forward to meeting him. We got a good look at his face with the 3D, which was kinda amazing. And she pointed out the scrotum and penis, so no surprises there! Una was more patient this time, I think she understood more of what she was looking at.

The gestational diabetes has been getting me down a bit. Sometimes I'd like to sit and read after dinner, or loll about watching tellie instead of finding a new hill to march up. Sometimes I think I've eaten the right things, thrashed up and down hills only to be disappointed when the monitor beeps and tells me my blood sugar is higher than I thought, and I think dammit, I may as well have had a bowl of icecream for dinner. The tips of my fingers hurt all over (chopping pineapple the other day was so much not fun). But being told the baby is a good weight, and being fitted for a bra and finding out the size across my back is the same as it was before I was pregnant with Frederique, and being able to honestly tell people I feel fit and well and I am genuinely enjoying the being pregnant part...well, it's a good pay off. And having the occasional person say 'You look GREAT!' (instead of 'Oh my god, you're enormous, it's going to be a big baby, is it twins, are you overdue, blah blah') has been nice too.

Apart from all that I am: teaching my last class on Thursday, marking two theses, soon to get stuck into what is hopefully the last structural round of rewrites on Only Ever Always (and still basking in the glow of a rave reader's report from one of my favourite editors). I am doing bits and pieces of Christmas shopping, knowing that it might not be so easy later on. I am reading a little between walks - Bye Beautiful by Julia Lawrinson which was SO SAD and I adored it and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, which was very very good but I was puzzled about what made it YA. To me it was very much sophisticated middle fiction, and all the better for it. I wonder if that category is an endangered species...

Also we went to an alternative technologies festival on the weekend called Practically Green and got very very excited about worm filled septic tanks. Such is our strange little world. Actually, I am still rather enthused.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

35 and a bit weeks update

I know, I know, long time no post.
I am 35 and a half weeks pregnant, which apparently means sometime in the next month or so, I am going to have a baby. Uh huh. Today we bought our first baby thing - a pram for home (we are going to have a big solid home pram and a little car pram). It's funny because it seems too soon to be buying stuff and yet with the other two we were (more or less) completely sorted by this stage.

Mostly my brain has been tied up with the gestational diabetes. I am on a steep learning curve and rapidly getting better at it. My levels started climbing, so I have been diligent with my eating and my exercise. I've had to cut out rice and pasta, which is quite complicated when you need a carb serve every meal. But no matter how far I walk or how much I bounce around on my fitball my levels just seemed to climb too close to the cut off mark (my blood sugar needs to be under 5.5 in the mornings and under 6.5 two hours after eating). So I have started experimenting with other carbs: quinoa, burghul, barley and of course there is the good old lentil (how I love thee). I am even eating the occasional piece of corn on the cob, and anyone who knows me will know that I am of the firm belief that corn is evil. Obviously my body needs the variety because I am not minding the (cloying) sweetness. I have worked out the best way to cook it - peel back the husks (don't remove them), remove the silks, rinse gently in water to moisten, pull the husks back up and back in mod oven for half an hour. Sweet, tender and doesn't need butter.

For weeks my breakfast was peanut butter on a slice of grainy toast, but I got a bit sick of that (it's very easy to just keep eating the same thing once you find something that works), and have recently come up with this instead:
I make it the night before. It is a strata of rhubarb, yoghurt, puffed quinoa and a sprinkling of muesli, then repeated with another layer of each. My blood sugar readings on this are consistently in the high 5s and it fills me up. The rhubarb is stewed with about a teaspoon of low gi honey (which I procured on a shopping trip to Leos in Heidelberg, near the hospital) and still very sour, but oddly refreshing - I don't have a sweet tooth in the mornings.

Speaking of quinoa and refreshing, my first experiment with cooking with quinoa produced this:
It's a black quinoa, Macro brand, which I picked up at a boutique grocer in Richmond, but I have seen the Macro brand in Woollies. I made a salad for Martin and I (this is the leftovers that I had for lunch the next day, so the salad would have fed four as a side). I cooked the quinoa first - half a cup of quinoa to a cup of water, simmered for 15 minutes till all the water was absorbed (I had to add an extra splash of water during the cooking time, so it might have been better to do a cup and a quarter of water). I fluffed it with a fork, then added it to the salad I'd already prepared: one avocado diced, one grapefruit diced and a generous quantity of chopped coriander from the garden. I didn't dress it because the grapefruit provided enough sour, but I did splash a little olive oil in. I cannot tell you how utterly fabulous this was. You must try it. We had it with simple marinated pork porterhouse steaks. My reading after this was about 5.7, quinoa rocks! Similar readings after a simple barley salad (loosely based on this one) with cherry tomatoes, grapes, feta and mint (I didn't dress it but it was quite moist and flavourful. I forgot the olives.). I served it with fried tempeh. The girls had sausages and shunned the barley and feta, picking out the tomatoes and grapes.

The exercise sometimes gets to me...I really have to do a lot of walking and bouncing and yoga to keep my levels down and some nights I am so tired before I begin (though I always perk up once I get going). And I love the walks too, setting out just before twilight into the bush, which is filled with wildflowers, or up the dirt roads, where the only other person I might see is a 12 year old girl on a horse. The sun is long and golden, rich as honey, and the birds are still busy and noisy: parrots, rosellas black cockatoos, kookaburras, flashes of colour moving in the trees. The other nice thing about all the walking is the treasures you can find:
The wild wind and rain must have buffetted it out of a tree, leaving it on the dirt road for me to find. Most of the fibres in it are artificial except for the dry grass. It is an amazing piece of workmanship. Imagine doing this with just a beak! I have my handy dandy opposable thumbs and my apparently superior intellect, and I could never pull it off.

Anyway, my levels are improving and the diabetes educator was impressed - apparently most people with even one type 2 diabetic in the family end up on insulin. 35 weeks is the peak of the bad hormonal mojo that causes gestational diabetes, so it shouldn't get any harder. And because I'm not hungry, and because I am enjoying how healthy and strong I feel, I am confident (and determined) I can keep it up until D Day...whenever that might be.

On Friday, I am off for a big baby scan (notoriously unreliable). But I'm not really worried about the size of the baby. I have a strong feeling he will not be as big as Una (4.55kg, or just over 10lb and posterior, which meant her head came out the big way). For no real reason, just intuition/positive thinking. And a few weeks ago Martin and I did a hypnobirthing course, and I can see where I could have used some of the techniques birthing Una to make it easier. Where I was quite nervous about the birth before, I now feel reasonably Zen about it. I am not exactly looking forward to it (which I was with Fred), more willing to surrender myself to the process and allow it to play out as it does.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


1. When I was eighteen I shaved my head.
At first I just shaved the back (you can just see it in the above photo) and kept the fringe*. A few months later I shaved it all off and repeated this pattern every so often throughout my twenties. Below I am about 21 or 22.
The first time I did it I rang my mum from a phone box on the lawn at Salamanca, Hobart, at dusk and told her (I was living in a townhouse in North Hobart, having moved out a few days before my 18th birthday). After a moment of silent anguish she said "At least you haven't got cancer."
Later she told me she'd gone downstairs and said to Dad, "What's the worse thing you can imagine Penni doing?"
Dad replied, "She's pregnant."
"Second worse."
"She's shaved her head."
Number two. Not drugs, or a cult, or elopement (well, ahem, at least I never joined a cult), or... well a million worse things. No. Second worse: shaving my head.
Why did I do it? Well, because of her of course.
I had taped the song off Rage and watched it over and over again. And then I went on to discover more of her, song by song - Three Babies, Last Days of Our Acquaintance, Troy (in which she referenced my favourite Yeats poem*), and she ruled benevolently over my identity until I discovered The Waifs (in a pub, in Melbourne, *cough*, before they were famous).
Also it made me feel brave and free - I'd had awful haircuts as a teenager and was really quite frightened of hairdressers and the power they wielded, the ugliness they could inflict upon me (ugliness thy name is perm. And sometimes bob.). There was enormous self-empowerment in going the shave. I also quite often got around in a black petticoat and Doc Martens and fishnet tights. Black was my signature colour*.
Also it felt great, the breeze on my head was a natural endorphin kick, like the tickly scratch on her back which has never failed to calm Una down, like the light touch massage we were taught on Sunday in my hypnobirthing class.
*(x3) The word emo had not been invented yet.

2. A month or two back now, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has just undergone her first bout of chemo, and last week, over the course of a day, she lost most of her hair. (She was getting the rest shaved off yesterday). Not without some sense of irony, we've both been taken back to this old story that exists between us. It is a gift, in a way, that something so sombre can also have an air of lightness.

3. I did a workshop recently with a group of teenagers (about the relationship between character and parts of the body), and one of them wrote: 'Her identity was in her hair.' Hair is a huge part of our self image, so much of how we perceive ourselves is tangled up in that mass of colour and coif atop our skulls. After I shaved my head, my hair grew back thicker and more lustrous and for the first time in my life - and to this day - I had natural curls (there had been weather-affected frizz and several disagreeable kinks and cowlicks, but this was the first time I had honest to goodness curl).
Some years ago (somewhere between five and ten) my mother stopped dying her hair and let it grow in completely white. She used to have curls too, big fat ones as a child and teenager, but her hair had become quite straight. She had it done fairly often and usually had a hairdresser that she would stay loyal to - in the eighties it was a man called Ken, and she followed him from salon to salon, along with my best friend's mother. Ken must have been quite something. I remember one salon he worked in (perhaps he cut my hair once or twice), in Sandy Bay, next to a drycleaner, in an odd spot without any other shops around. Almost like a service station or a bottle shop, it had a "drive through" in front, probably for quick pick up of drycleaning.
I may be making all this up. About the drycleaner. I am quite sure about the hair.

4. Our first First Gentleman is a hairdresser.

5. Just before I fell pregnant I dyed my hair for the first time in years.
There is still residual colour. My hair has always taken colour well, probably because it tends to be a little dry and there is quite a bit of red pigment (I was a very gingery kid). It has been many colours: blue, blonde, black (yeah, that didn't work out so well), and accidentally greenish which it turns out is what happens when you put black henna over red bottle dye. I first got tips at 11 on a family holiday at the Gold Coast (Mum says Dad was in charge and she came back to find my hair dyed and Kylie's permed). They put a rubber cap on me and pulled strands of hair through little holes. I asked for strawberry blonde because that's what colour girls hair was in the American romance books I was addicted to (Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High). They were perplexed but came up with something. When I went back to school I said I'd been to the Gold Coast over the holidays and she said, "I can see the sun has lightened your hair."
"I had it dyed," I told her.
She gave me a withering stare and said archly, "I am sure some of it was the sun."
And hastily I agreed (she was that sort of teacher). She had two hair styles herself, a giant Barbie perm and a very tight ponytail with all her hair scraped back. She cultivated an alarming look, her eyebrows were also quite something, all four of them. She came back from holidays herself with the second style and all the girls in the class walked in, and then instantly stepped back into the hallway to claw at each other and gasp, "Did you see her hair?"

6. Sometimes I still think about shaving my head. Martin does a number Number Two fairly regularly, and as I neaten up the back I think how easy it would be, how lovely the air would feel swirling around my scalp. But somehow I doubt I will ever shave my head again.

Not by choice anyway.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Gestational Diabetes

I'm 30 weeks. A couple of weeks ago I found out I have gestational diabetes. I had a lesson yesterday in monitoring my blood sugar, and now I have to prick my finger four times a day (but I don't get to sleep for a hundred years). I have occasionally modified my diet to lose weight - after I gave up smoking which was a year or so before I got pregnant with Fred I allowed myself four tablespoons of fat a day (mostly peanut butter or olive oil) and swam nearly every day, and last year or the year before I was kinda sorta 'French' for a while, which mostly involved eating yoghurt for breakfast, smaller serving sizes and walking. After a month or so of being super-conscious about it, I just found I incorporated certain things into my daily routine (like having breakfast, I'd never been much of a morning eater before) and having smaller portions of sweets, but didn't really think about it much anymore.

I have always carefully avoided the whole concept of bad food and good food. This is the first time I've really had to think about carbs and fats and sugars. It's the first time I've had to think about what I am eating (and drinking) when, staging all these small meals throughout the day, carrying carrot sticks and vita-wheats in my handbag, and a spare muesli bar in case I get caught out.

Last night, after avgolemono soup with toasted feta and silverbeet grainy flatbread sandwiches, and then my usual yoga make-the-baby-come-out-easier exercises, my reading was low and I felt smug and clever. This morning's reading, two hours after a bowl of low GI muesli and 2 strawberries my blood sugar reading was quite high. I'd forgotten my iron pill so took it about half an hour before testing and I have a cold and I had a cup of tea sometime after breakfast... Can this stuff affect the reading? How can I hold all this stuff in my head for ten weeks? Ten weeks isn't long to adapt to a condition but it's a long time to fret about the possibility of things going wrong. Not that I'm worried really... or I wasn't till I started monitoring my blood sugar. That pass/fail mentality that dogged me in high school is hard to shake, I feel like I am being graded on my meals (and like Lisa Simpson* my attitude towards grading is far more unhealthy than my attitude to food). I've been doing the diet for a few weeks (I have a very clever friend who also had gestational diabetes and she gave me lots of great advice) and on the whole feeling much better for it.

I met a lovely mum (also pregnant with her third) at the diabetes class and we were talking about the sense of guilt and failure associated with this diagnosis. The conscious, critical feminist in me (with two type 2 parents) knows that it's not my fault and more luck of the genes. But mothers are held so accountable for every morsel of food that passes their lips (as though their pregnant body belongs to the state while housing the innocent, vulnerable infant that needs protection as all children do by default). And there is a sense that "the rise of gestational diabetes" is invariably associated with "society today" and the overabundant supply of fast food and obesity. Perhaps the "rise of gestational diabetes" is at least partly related to the number of cases diagnosed now that nearly every pregnancy is screened for it. I am hoping I get used to the testing, at the moment the whole thing seems so obsessive. I hate thinking about food so much. The gestational diabetes will go away when the baby is born, but I'll always have to be a little careful - it's not uncommon for people with gestational diabetes to develop type 2 and with my family history my doctor says it's almost inevitable.

On the upside the diet changes have been mostly interesting and not difficult to adjust to. I am not craving the things I can't have (potatoes, butter, cake, chocolate etc), perhaps because I am eating so frequently I am never getting really hungry. I am enjoying the challenge of keeping food interesting for myself and incorporating foods that are healthy for me into our family meals. The girls have adjusted quickly to grainy bread (which is what we used to eat all the time, I am not sure when soft brown bread began to take over). They understand that I am foregoing sugar. They are not so keen on the idea of finger pricking and run and hide when I do it, though it is utterly unspectacular. The diet only feels restrictive when I go out to eat or when I go to a party or something.

Anyway, in case you have stumbled here by accident because you have been diagnosed with GDM too a daily meal plan for me might consist of:

Plain low fat yoghurt with a handful of toasted oats, plus sesame seeds and flaked almonds and a kiwi fruit or a third of a banana or some strawberries. (Which I think is kinder on me that the bowl of muesli I had this morning).
OR a piece of toast with vegemite and a low fat latte

Morning tea:
An oat biscuit OR four vitawheats spread with peanut butter and dotted with about 8 raisins or topped with sliced banana OR a slice of toasted raisin bread with peanut butter OR vitawheats and low fat cheese. With any of these I might have a piece of fruit.
Cup of tea or low fat latte (I only have one latte a day and some days none).

Varies but today it was leftover avgolemono (made with orzo pasta instead of rice). Yesterday I had two nori rolls with avocado and half a very uninspiring apple - the rest of which I chucked. Salads with tuna and a piece of grainy bread with avocado spread or minestrone with beans and pasta are two other mainstays.

Afternoon tea:
Pretty similar to morning tea.

Tonight we are having a veggie lasagne. If we have pasta we have small amount of pasta on the side of, say, a meat dish, or two different kinds of veggie sides (the other day it was spaghetti with wilted silverbeet with lemon and nuts, and a tomato based tuna sauce). Often I make some kind of hearty salad, making sure to include a grain like burghul or barley and a good sauce of protein, like meat or nuts. A quick popular meat dish (served with many veggies on the side) in this house is: veal (schnitzel type) steaks, put in a pan (you don't have to brown them but you can), with tomato pasta sauce thinned with a bit of water and the lot sprinkled with grated low fat mozzarella or parmesan and baked in a mod-hot oven for about 15, 20 minutes (till cheese is the way you like it). You can accidentally forget about it for a while because the veal doesn't overcook easily. We would eat this with pasta on the side and a big green salad (on the side I like pretty simple salads, which I usually dress with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice - salad might be spinach leaves with sunflower seeds and pear, or diced cucumber, tomato, red capsicum, spinach and parsley).

*Look at me! Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I'm good, good, good and oh so smart! Grade meeeeee!!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wondering how to comprehend Australian politics?

Look no further.

The Harry Potter version of Australian politics over the last three years is all spelled out for you right here.

Meanwhile I have discovered we live in the most marginal seat in Australia. I heard the three candidates interviewed on 774 last Thursday morning. And I was utterly relieved to hear how sensible our Green candidate is.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lines written while sitting up with a sick child

Inside our darkened lounge kitchen dining
(one space for all our living)
The clock keeps a steady heart
The tin roof shrinks at intervals
As outside the temperature drops.
The sharp contractions sound
Like a giant curious finger
Rousing life in this insect house.
Tap tap. Tap tap tap.
Sometimes it finds its rhythm
But it can’t keep up
With the clock’s steadfast drum.

Today in the late winter sun
Una and I walked the dirt tracks.
We stopped to talk to a neighbour who was
In her garden raking up leaves
To feed the tamed appetites of two garden fires.
We marvelled at the roundness of me:
Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?
It’s a baby brother, Una said.
The neighbour said
I have a name for you
And offered it up, a single word,
Muttered over her twin fires like a spell.
It means resolute protector.
Una and I went further up the hill
Her short legs soon growing tired of the climb
We took a short cut behind the houses
Through the bush.
We discovered a toadstool
She stumbled on the downwards path
Air and light entered us.

The fridge whirrs into life.
Una on the couch
Dwells at the border of sleep
Her eyelids fluttering open.
Tap. Tap tap.

Deep in the well of my flesh
The unnamed
Baby in darkness
Taps back.

Monday, August 02, 2010


New (to me) blog: Mila's Dreams*. Beautiful photographs but for some reason they brought to mind this passage about Mrs Darling airing her children's thoughts.
Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

From J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan
*Brought to my attention via Twitter by Rihana, rhymes with banana, one of my star students from my RADICAL fiction class last year. Peter Pan definitely counts as radical in my book.

New Tricks for Old Voices

On Saturday morning I appeared in a panel at the Eltham New Voices alongside other bloggers, the eeerily familiar, don't-I-know-you-from-somewhere (he said it first but I was thinking it too) James Bradley of City of Tongues (also billed as international bestselling author - show off), writer-philosopher Damon Young and the ever delightful Karen Andrews, editor of Miscellaneous Voices, Australia's first blog anthology. The festival is organised by Mira of Eltham Bookshop, a lovely oldschool bookshop that stocks a goodly collection of poetry, short stories and children's books, and is very supportive of local authors and new talent.

The topic was blogging and new media, and ended up sort of being about its relationship to the book as well, considering we are all included in Miscellaneous Voices, which is, of course, as we experts like to call it, a book with a spine. And all of us are published authors who already have a public voice. It was fascinating and the discussion ranged from themes to do with community, identity, playfulness, direct relationships with the reader, writing in a populated place rather than into the void, habits of collecting, the flexible possibilities of writing online and finding new voices for ourselves.

It was a great event, lovely to see something happening out in the suburbs have such interest. The festival is in its fifth year, and clearly going strong.

The best part for me was hanging out with other writer-parents and talking about our bad habits and how we manage the work-life balance. And just making each other laugh.

Damon has a regular series of guest posts on his blog darkly wise, rudely great (what a great name) on tools writer's use and you can read my response here, fresh up today. I really recommend strolling through the archives of this series because it does make for fascinating reading.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Una the Naughty Little Sister

Una has an interesting relationship with the My Naughty Little Sister stories by Dorothy Edwards. She loves them because they are an absolutely True Story of her Life. They are the Chronicles of Una. But she is also slightly concerned. Why is it always her that is naughty? Why is never Freddy?
"Maybe they are made up books about somebody else?" I venture, in the face of her ardent belief. "Maybe it's not you at all."
"No," she insists. She is the naughty little sister, even though we seldom use the word naughty in our house.
This belief is deeply ingrained. One day I tell her, "Maybe it's time for me to teach you how to sew?"
"I already know how to sew," she grumps. In the face of my disbelief she adds: "Remember? In the naughty little sister?"
On another occasion she comes up to me and says, "I would like to try spongy trifle again."
"Okay..." I say, with a question mark in my voice. When have I ever made spongy trifle?
"I think I would like it more now." And I realise, it is the naughty little sister who has tried it before (without much success by the sounds of things).
Una has impressive powers of recall when it comes to The Naughty Little Sister. She knows more of the stories than I do because she listens to them on tape* at night in the bedroom she shares with Fred. She remembers the time she (as the naughty little sister) bit Father Christmas and when she went and visited a grumpy neighbour on her own.
It is not that surprising that these books have filled the gaps in Una's own memory. False memory making is a past-time of both children. "I remember when I was in your tummy and I wanted you to wake up so I kicked you and kicked you," says Fred. "Remember when I was a toddler and couldn't speak properly and I said Mama? Papa?' prompts Una (to which I respond with a non-commital mm.) As these stories get more elaborate, I find myself internally rebelling. I sometimes feel threatened by their made up memories, as if my own real memories of their infancies are being undermined.
From their point of view there is already so much in their short lives that has disappeared (something they are constantly reminded of as this pregnancy sends Martin and I down memory lane to a time when they were present, but before their conscious memory begins). Fred barely recalls kids she went to kinder with two years ago (and is surprisingly uncomfortable about going back into this shadowy half-remembered place, now that Una has just commenced her first term at the same kinder - I remember similar physical unease as a child at the idea of going "back"). In my experience with Fred she had an uncanny memory up to the age of about 3 or 4 - she would ask about playmates she hadn't seen for months and despite the fact that she only watched ABC Kids on very rare occasions her product recognition was nothing short of alarming. Her memory, while still good, is now far more selective. I guess she's asking a lot more of it as she learns to read and spell and do maths, as she consumes information about the human body and Japan and the difference between front and back support at gymnastics.
For Una finding such a clear record of a life that resonates with her feelings and experiences and sense of self has more than compensated for these black spots, for the shadowy patches of forgetting. By taking on the identity of the never named Naughty Little Sister she can put a narrative to those feelings, to her sense of who she is and her place in the world.
There will be a time, not very far from now I suppose, when Una has to face the fact that these memories are false. For example as I wrote this post I asked her, "What's the earliest thing you remember?"
"I remember things," she said. "Some things. I remember when I was the naughty little sister. Freddy had a doll and it said Mama when you leaned it back and closed its eyes when you tipped it forward and opened its eyes when you stood it up and I took it, and I threw it out the window–"
"No!" said Fred, who has come home from school out of sorts and in the mood to contradict (usually she is very indulgent of Una's naughty little sister fantasies). "I NEVER had a doll like that."
Una begins to cry. "You did! Yes you did!"
And Fred, in the face of Una's false remembering begins to cry too. Martin intervenes, and all the while Una is insisting that Fred DID have that very doll, she did, she did.
Later I ask her what she remembers from when she wasn't the naughty little sister. She understands the question straight away, but answers with the stories we've supplied her with (her first word, 'Hi!', the time she chopped her finger off). I suspect that it's not that the memories aren't there, it's more that she doesn't know what to recall, or how to bring it to mind, she isn't sure how to answer the question. Her own memories are sensual flashes triggered by a smell or a place or a feeling, or implicit (remembered in the unconscious actions of the bodies, like walking, talking, holding a pen, threading a bead) - they aren't a narrative with a beginning, middle and end.
The real naughty little sister?
One day sitting on the couch, cuddling into my belly, Una says, "Can you write a book called the big little sister?" Almost as if its the act of writing that makes reality. She is asking me to write her into being. And look, here it is, a placeholder for memory, if we are both to forget this time in our lives when she became the naughty little sister.
And in the end, how much more authentic (or less?) are her memories of being the naughty little sister than the stories we have told her about herself. As adults I think we assume that our memories are the sum total of who we are and I think we definitely privilege "episodic" (or narrative) memory over implicit memory and sensual memory. We are inclined to construct ourselves through memory... As I mentioned in my previous post, in Star Trek - but also in Buffy, Lost and many other popular narratives - (conscious) memory is identity and loss of memory threatens cohesiveness of self.

Memory is identity, at least in part. But memory is also fiction. It is unreliable. It is imprecise and relative and tricksy. Memory is myth-making. And myths always borrow from previous stories, from the accumulated history of human memory. Una's conflation of her own memories with the stories of the naughty little sister strikes me as a very literal, external performance of a process that is normally a lot more discreet: the way we incorporate books into our psyches, how books cohabit with our souls, how books weave themselves into our complex neural web and become - sometimes indistinguishably - enmeshed in memory and self.

As a compulsive reader throughout childhood this thought is astonishing and reassuring, that the books are still there, and part of me.

As a writer, it is both a powerful thought and an extremely daunting one.

*Thanks Jelly, for the book and the tapes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

By a name/I know not how to tell thee who I am

Of names, some are proper, and singular to one only thing; as Peter, John, this man, this tree: and some are common to many things; as man, horse, tree; every of which, though but one name, is nevertheless the name of diverse particular things; in respect of all which together, it is called a universal, there being nothing in the world universal but names; for the things named are every one of them individual and singular.
Thomas Hobbes

`What sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?' the Gnat inquired.
`I don't rejoice in insects at all,' Alice explained, `because I'm rather afraid of them -- at least the large kinds. But I can tell you the names of some of them.'
`Of course they answer to their names?' the Gnat remarked carelessly.
`I never knew them do it.'
`What's the use of their having names the Gnat said, `if they won't answer to them?'
`No use to them,' said Alice; `but it's useful to the people who name them, I suppose. If not, why do things have names at all?'

Yesterday Fred had gymnastics. During her class I sit upstairs and watch or chat to the other mums. I can see when the class is ending, and I go downstairs to meet Fred coming out the door. Yesterday I was caught up in the conversation as class ended and Fred came upstairs to find me. She often comes up before class and it's not a big gym, though between classes there is always a throng in the cramped foyer, so it wasn't an overly alarming scenario for her. However she was most upset that I wasn't downstairs to meet her and had a little cry when she saw me.
I got a little telling off in the car for forgetting her.
"But we were talking about you," I said. "I was telling Emma's mum about you walking to school."
"But talking about me isn't me," she protested. "I am not the talk of me. I'm real me. I'm not a word. I don't live in your mouth."
I thought it was interesting that she made this distinction so abruptly, that she so violently separated the word girl from the skin girl. It is an insightful distinction - Frederique might have been Daisy or Anouk and Una was very nearly Kitty.
And yet, without her name, who is Frederique? The word girl can live without the skin girl, and the skin without the word, but each of them adrift, signifier and signified. For Ferdinand de Saussure, a founding father of semiotics, only together do they make up the sign, the object.

Is naming truly arbitrary? Or is naming destiny? When I name a character in a book I already know the sort of person they are, and I choose a name that I think reflects their place in the world, the values and attributes that they are composed of, and also their status in the novel. Do we shape our children with the names we choose. There seems nothing arbitrary about Fred's name now, it seems entirely adjectival. We chose it because we wanted her to be Fred/Freddie/Frederique, a chameleon child who could alter her name with her identity - be wild and boyish Fred, or sweet and girlish Freddie or glmaorous, elegant Frederique - and to us she is all these things. In herself she is far more gender neutral than Una, her favourite game is tiggy (which I used to call chasings, but what's in a name?), her hair has the sometimes appearance of a cartoon character at top speed (but it can also fall in soft, ethereal waves around her face), she is kinetic and likes science and maths and maps - in my view non-gendered activities. Yet she is fascinated with the mystique of her own femininity. She is complicated and changeable like her name.

As I write this, she is trying to make a pencil out of foam, reclaimed lead that mysterious separated itself from its pencil and stickytape. It is a stormy exercise that is leading to much frustration.

When we named Una, we gave her a simple, clearly feminine name. It is everything Frederique is not - straightforward, easy to spell, difficult to modify (though as it turns out easy to rhyme with: Una Balloona, Una Petunia, Una in the Moon-a, Una the Tuna). Pearl, her middle name, was an extra secret gift (Frederique doesn't have one, because we didn't feel she could possibly ever need one with such a fabulous elastic name as Frederique). And she is a simpler girl, or, perhaps it is just that my relationship with her is simpler. I love her dearly, but I can see the edges of her. With Fred (and I have blogged about this before) I have always found the boundaries ambiguous, where she ends, where I begin. We are more similar but also, simply, she was my first and my mother-identity was born with her. Frederique is the name of the piece of me that broke off, and became her.

That their personalities are reflected in their names can hardly be a surprise, we named them, and the values reflected in our naming also inform our parenting. Recently on a name forum that has become my new guilty pleasure there was a question about naming as branding - are we giving our babies a "brand" that they will carry with them through their life?

I asked Fred tonight if she would be a different girl if we'd called her Daisy. She took a moment to decide, swinging between yes and no. Finally she said, "No, because I would still look like me."

I asked Una the same question - what if we'd named you Kitty, would you be different? Not entirely understanding the question, but instead responding as if she'd been offered a choice, she said, "I'd like to be different." (She is the one out of the two of them that sometimes talks about changing her name, though I remember Fred went through a phase of it a year or two ago). Una said,
"Then people would look at me and say Hello Una and I would say I'm not Una, I'm Kitty."
Fred said, "But no one would know you because you'd be different."
Una replied, "But I'd still have the same clothes."
It interests me the importance the girls put on their appearance as determining who they are as opposed to their interior existence, or the history they have lived. (In Star Trek identity is always attached to memory.)

At eight I changed my name to Laura. It didn't stick. At ten I changed the spelling of Penny to Penni. That whim continues to haunt me. I was confronted with the choice when I published my first book. But by then, I felt branded, in the literal sense. Marked permanently by the shape of my name. It was the same reason I kept my maiden name. I just couldn't conceive of being called anything else. (Having said that, I see the appeal for changing it as well.)

My mother wanted to call me Rowena. Who would I have been if I'd been called Rowena? Penelope is a name attached to folklore and myth. The wife of Odysseus (aka Ulysses), who was courted by suitors when her husband went missing after the Trojan war. She promised to choose one to marry when she finished weaving her husband's funeral shroud, by day she would work and at night she would unravel it, until she was dobbed in by a servant. Odysseus turned up just in the nick of time. Is it because of my name that I studied Classics at uni, that I became a weaver of stories (and a liar)? Rowena apparently was a scheming Saxon seductress. So maybe I wouldn't have been totally bland and boring, though for some reason I think of Rowena as a bored housewife. No offence to Rowenas out there, but the name Rowena makes me uneasy.

Perhaps there is something about the almost-name that haunts me with an other person I might have been. There is almost a touch of the abject: that which “disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous” (most commonly identified in the spectacle of the corpse). Rowena is more not-me than Susan or Jacquie or Lily or any other girl's name.

So I am curious, do you know what other name you might have been called? How do you feel about it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The third that lay in our embrace

This poem has been flying around my head lately and I thought I'd share it in full here.

Woman to Man
by Judith Wright

The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day -
silent and swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.

This is no child with a child's face;
this has no name to name it by:
yet you and I have known it well.
This is our hunter and our chase,
the third that lay in our embrace.

This is the strength that your arm knows,
the arc of flesh that is my breast,
the precise crystals of our eyes.
This is the blood's wild tree that grows
the intricate and folded rose.

This is the maker and the made;
this is the question and reply;
the blind head butting at the dark,
the blaze of light along the blade.
Oh hold me, for I am afraid.

I wish I had more time and space to think in poems, I have a busy few months ahead: teaching a new course at Melbourne Uni, a week's regional tour during the writer's festival, rewriting Only Ever Always (which I am beginning to suspect I shall be writing Only Ever and Always), a few gigs in Book Week, beginning a new project for which I have received my first ever grant (Vic Arts) and all the while finishing off the making a baby.

However, things have been deceptively quiet this last week. I've been settling Una into a new routine - she's switched from three days at her creche to one day at her creche and three shorter days at the council kinder 10 minutes down the road. This was partly because as much as I love her creche I was sick of the drive. Partly because she kept saying, "I love the teachers and I love the kids but I don't like the creche" (which I think means she's getting bored after a year and a half) and partly because as her first year at school looms closer, with no other prospective enrollments, it suddenly seemed very important for her to have the opportunity to mix with kids closer by, kids she might encounter again at the market or in ballet classes.

Now she's started and happy with the change, I really have to settle myself into the new routine as well. Or before I know it, the third that lay in our embrace will be here, with a name to name it by, and my time will shrink down to the size of a sparkle in a baby's eye.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hello Baby - 20 weeks

Part One

Twenty weeks. The scan was long and the baby was unco-operative, with his back to us for most of it, fast asleep.
"That's one relaxed baby you've got there," the sonographer said, poking my belly savagely, trying to get him to move.
"Can we have that in writing?" we asked.
The sonographer whisked around doing all her measurements, and as Una and Martin and I tried to puzzle out limbs and appendages, Fred would declare confidently, "There's a foot, there's a leg." And she'd be right. Una got bored and frustrated, I think she thought she'd be seeing, you know, the baby, instead of this fluid creature made of shadows and light.
The sonographer wanted to count the fingers and toes, and managed all but the left hand, which he stubbornly held in a fist.
"It's got a big head!" Fred cried. The sonographer laughed, but didn't correct her. I cringed.
Unfortunately after Martin took them out it got more interesting, though that may have been because I had the chance to take more of an interest. The sonographer sent me off to the toilet to empty my bladder and jiggle about a bit and I came back and the baby changed position, opening up his pesky fist, but waving his foot cheekily in front of his face. The student sonographer zeroed in on the baby's face and switched it to 3D, which is very strange and oddly brown and sepia looking and still fluid, but sort of thickly so. Yet every now and then there would be a clear flash that would take my breath away - there's his nose, his chin. His profile is very similar to Fred and Una's. There's a 3D photo too, but it's one only a mother could love. Anyway, I love the classic ultrasound shot. It's luminous and mysterious, shadows and light.
On the drive home, Martin asks a tired Una, "Did you like seeing the baby?"
"No," replies Una, grumpily. "It was too complicated."
All is well, anyway. And yes. It's a boy.

Part Two

Which brings us to naming.
We've already decided the boy's name we had for Fred and Una - Gulliver - is probably out. I still love the sound of it, the feel of the word on my tongue. But not only is it rising in popularity, there is a Gulliver among the small clutch of children Una's age in our town. And I've used up most of the magic, names, we've discovered, don't always keep.
'What about Edward?' I say.
Martin shrugs. 'I like it, but don't love it.'
And same with Charlie, Laurence, Nicholas, Irving, Isaac (and it's cool nickname Ike), Asher, Satchel (is it a name? Is it a manbag?)...pick a name and we have picked over it. All perfectly good names, all lovely names, all names we like even. And yet. And yet.
We go back and forth. When the girls go and stay with with their Nana for the night, he reads me names out of a library book while I lie in the bath: Names for your Australian Baby. He discovers Toshio. He loves it. "This is it. This is the name." I like Toshi. I really do. I taste it on my tongue. I roll it around for days. Martin makes the mistake of airing it in public. "He has to live with that name all his life," one older relative says. She's worried that it's too different. We point out that Frederique isn't really part of our cultural heritage either. We say that it came from a book of names for Australian babies. In the end she laughs and says "Well good luck to you." I know she will love our baby whatever we call it, but this kind of sours the name for me. Do I love it enough to fly in the face of other people's disapproval? Why do I care so much? I am too sensitive to this sort of criticism. I intuitively feel like my parenting choices are being questioned, that we would name whimsically and without care for our child's possible future as a brickie's labourer/prime minister. With Frederique and Una, when we finally came up with their names, we sealed our mouths closed. I think it's how we knew, finally, that we'd come up with the right one.
"Benjamin,' suggests Una.
"But we have a Benjamin." (The girls' uncle.)
"Geoffrey," says Una. "John."
I like John, I am plainer in my tastes than Martin when it comes to boys' names. "Too plain," says Martin.
"Joe," says Fred.
"We already have a Joseph." (My sister's little boy.)
"Not Joseph," says Fred. "Joe. It's a completely different name."
"Not Joe," Martin and I say, though I am regretful. With my plain tastes, I like Joe.
Fred picks up the namebook. In excitement she exclaims, "What about Barry? It's Irish for "spear"!" We laugh. She's serious.
Una cries, after suggesting Benjamin for the fiftieth time, "You never like my names."
But Fred and Una don't like the names we suggest either. They are deeply, profoundly conservative in their tastes and will only consider names they have encountered themselves through creche, school or literature (Joe is from the Faraway Tree).
"What about Tolliver?" I ask Martin after hearing Tolly (in this case short for Bartholomew) on Poirot. There is a Michael Tolliver in Armistead Maupin's fabulous Tales of the City series. The more I think about the name the more I like it. It's literary, has a similar tactile presence to Gulliver on the palate of the tongue. Martin tries it on for size. A day or two later he says "I don't think I can do it." I nod. A little bit sad. Goodbye Tolliver.
Sacha. We agree on Sacha. We love the name. But has it gone to the girls? There is a girl Sasha in the wider family circle. Does it matter? On this we can't decide, we are equal in both our love of it and our ambivalence. The girls are more emphatic. "That's a girl's name," they insist.
Tonight Fred and Una carry names from me to Martin, in a sort of game - I suggest a name, they relay the message and bring me back Martin's danced gestures (to the Pet Shop Boys) in response, which are either positive or negative. Fred calls it our secret language and asks me breathlessly after each of her performances, "What does it mean?" Una is a censor, refusing to even ferry the name she doesn't like - Marmaduke.
And so the search goes on.

We are open to suggestions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunday morning poem making

Fred had a play with this fun online toy on Sunday morning and made the following poem:

I see a thousand computers

Millions move here

Four are late now

Follow the thirty sounds

She was sad when the nature of the tool meant that eventually other people began to break apart her poem to make their own. I told her I'd put it on my blog and then it would be on the internet "forever and ever".

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Home by Marilynne Robinson

I don't think it has ever, in my life, taken me so long to read a book (that I have finished, technically I am still reading The Famished Road by Ben Okri, which I started in about 1992.) I have been reading Home for six months, I started in January while camping in Tasmania. I had to keep putting it down to read other things, books for the uni subject I was teaching, books for work. Before kids, I always used to wolf books down in a sitting, or at least over the course of a few days, and it is rare that I capture the time to do that these days. And anyway, I am really really glad that I lived with Home for so long, dipping in and out of its meditative spaces.

Home is a follow up to Gilead which I read a couple of years ago, and also took some time over according to my blog. Home deals with the same characters (from a differing point of view, somewhere between the character of Glory and omniscient), in the same period of time, and even touches on the same thematic material and yet it is its own entity. It is not entirely an experience of narrative which is not to say it's not immersed in story. But the tension doesn't essentially come from character or plot, but from somewhere else, from the confluence of ideas, from the meeting of opposites, from questions of grace and family and love.

When I finished reading it, I sat reclining on the couch with it resting on my chest for a while, looking out the window, not ready to put it down. It was almost as if I wanted my chest to open up and swallow the book, and use it in place of my heart. I was grieving it - six months is a long time to live with anything, and these characters and their cares had entered my self and my consciousness. As I sat with the last notes of the book still ringing in my head, I heard Martin and the kids come back from a walk and thought 'they are my people who belong to me' with renewed astonishment and took deep pleasure in the sounds of them, out of my line of sight, on the other side of the gate.

If you have read Gilead you must read Home. If you have read neither you must read both, in whichever order you choose. I am not a book reviewer and it is in loving a book as passionately as I do Home that I realise why - true love renders this reader inarticulate, except to say, 'take this book and love it like I do.'

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Fat Chicks Should Stop Taking All the Credit

So this weekend in the Sunday Age magazine there were two articles about mothers.

The first wasn't so much about mothers as it was about fathers. Basically fathers who also balance housework, childcare duties and paid work aren't getting enough recognition in the media and for some reason implicitly that is the fault of mothers who do get recognition. One of the men interviewed pointed out that there are any number of women's magazines telling women how marvelous they are for doing it all, whereas such magazines don't exist for men. There was no analysis of the political motivations for framing women as the ones who have to 'do it all.' There was also some rather suss statistic rolled out that suggested men do slightly more in total than women when it comes to a combination of those three duties - paid work, childcare, and housework. There was no indication of: how this was divided up, what constituted "work" (making sandwiches for kid's lunches, remembering doctor's appointments, knowing which toys belong to which kid), or how they evaluated the amount of work they do. My guess is men work longer hours professionally than women overall, and that this is the biggest factor in dividing up "work" hours, since studies like these indicate women still do most of the housework. I know which, out of paid work and housework, I personally find more rewarding in terms of personal satisfaction, peer recognition and financial acknowledgment (though I enjoy all my various teaching, writing, speaking and editing jobs).

I am not suggesting men don't do housework (our household is definitely divided fairly in all three areas, with me doing a little more childcare and cooking, and Martin doing more cleaning, our work hours are probably pretty even for the time being, though when the baby comes I will care more and work less I suppose), nor do I think anyone should be deprived of a pat on the back, god knows otherwise housework is fairly thankless (apart from the yay factor of living in a non-grotty house). But when it comes down to it, is an article about "superwomen" who "do it all" actually contributing value to women's lives? Or is it setting the bar higher, is it actually aimed at undermining our self-esteem? (And probably ultimately at making us want the laundry powder/lipstick/pole-dancing classes/"how you too can be a yummy mummy" edition of the magazine.) All I am saying, blokes, is that maybe you don't want that kind of recognition. Maybe a happy, well functioning household that works according to your own family's needs and values is recognition enough for all of us.

On the next page - the very next page - was an article about how women in love, and especially married women with children, get fat. And we all know how bad that is.

Any men lining up to complain about how no one writes about them getting fat after they have kids?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Lots of people are doing this, but Simmone thought of it

What is your most marked characteristic?
Martin says I'm either strong-willed or pigheaded or single-minded. I am not sure exactly which. I'd have said analytical.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
No bullshit, no game-playing, what you see is what you get

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

No bullshit, no game-playing, what you see is what you get

What do you most value in your friends?
A highly developed sense of play.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


What is your favorite occupation?

Reading, researching a topic that interests me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Champagne, fish and chips, on a balmy summer night at Kate Constable's house, watching my children deeply involved in some complicated narrative game that involves Una traipsing past in various outfits. Or exploring a new country with Martin.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When someone stops talking to you and won't tell you why.

In which country would you like to live?

Australia. (With a holiday house in a Mediterranean country.)

Who are your favorite writers?

Marilynne Robinson, Helen Garner, Anne Tyler

Who are your favorite poets?

Simon Armitage, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Gwen Harwood

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Who is your favorite heroine of fiction?

Who are your favorite composers?
Bach, John Adams.

Who are your favorite painters?

Matisse, the Australian impressionists (Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton), Geoffrey Dyer

What are your favorite names?

Eglantine and Marmaduke (unfortunately Martin also shares naming rights).

What is it that you most dislike?

Lack of empathy.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I'd love to be able to run really, really, really fast.

How would you like to die?
Without fear.

What is your current state of mind?

Sunday afternoon lethargy... fuzzy pregnant ennui... mmm, mandarin.

What is your motto?
Everyone has a story.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

And a few days later

Still strangely fascinating.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Close Encounters

I was cooking dinner this evening and went out in the dark to pick some parsley. In the darkness I encountered a gleaming white lattice ball, I thought it was some kind of plastic packaging at first. I touched it (I touched it) and it was moist and slimy and then behind it I saw the 'egg' from which it had sprung, a sort of burst open mushroom. There was another on the verge of emerging under the mint bushes, and as I prodded it with a stick I saw it spring free and open out. I called Martin. It was dark and the photos aren't great but here they are.
There was something intensely alive about it, between plant and animal. Neither Martin nor I had ever seen anything like it before, and I am not ashamed to say that it freaked me out (remember I touched it. Remember it was slimy.) It was alien and other, the smell, the spawning... it looked almost like something manufactured (packaging or a deteriorating soccer ball, rotted down to it's web skeleton), but at the same time, so...not human.
It smelt both sour and oversweet, sort of yoghurty, like yakult.
It was freakish but beautiful too, which is why I kept trying to get the perfect photograph, despite the terrible light.
Martin was smarter than me. He didn't touch it. He did take one over to the neighbours, strung on a stick, to see if they could identify it. Leaving me alone with the other one. I could hear their voices carrying in the night, their nervous (or unnerved) laughter as they confessed it was nothing either of them had encountered before, and I was comforted by the sounds of them, and by the warm lighted house behind me, and my children playing with their reassuringly plastic toys as I fiddled with my iphone, trying to get a photo that captured not only the beauty of the object but the feelings of otherworldliness it aroused on me. But the smell grew more intense, saturating the interior of not only my nose but also my throat and I couldn't bear it anymore. Martin came back and I stood up and re-entered the warm house, leaving him to throw it away.

I googled it (hint, never google "fungus balls", because you medical conditions.) In the end this is what I came up with: Ileodictyon gracile.