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