wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Archive for the tag “mummy-bloggers”

Birds and the bees, shooting the breeze

Peter Mayles, Where Did I Come From?

Peter Mayles, Where Did I Come From?

My son McCool is three years old. He has a baby in his tummy. The baby is coming out through his belly button one day soon. It is a little boy. And he’s excited to see him. And wants to share this excitement with me. We’re reading a bedtime story called There’s a House Inside My Mummy. We read it a lot when I was pregnant with GG. I’ve noticed McCool always chooses his reading material according to who is reading. It’s a clever tactic to keep the grown ups interested. I get John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat a lot (because it’s my favourite). Poor grandma gets The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (because she has the patience to read it). We fight over who won’t read Horton Hears a Who! ‘It’s too long’, we moan, ‘we need some more VOOOOM’. Who would have thought us literary types would try desperately to avoid Dr Seuss. But we’re all happy when we land Walter the Farting Dog.

I try to tell him that only women can have babies (even if this isn’t exactly correct) but he doesn’t want to listen. He likes the idea of a little one sprouting from his belly. He’s been asking a lot of questions about babies in bellies. He has a little cousin arriving soon.

I think that perhaps it’s time. To talk about sex. But, really, where do you start? I always thought it would be fairly straightforward. Just answer the questions down the line. But the questions are so curly. And the answers aren’t much easier. And now I realise the dilemma. McCool still finds it hard to distinguish between the real and the fantasy. At what point does cold hard reality have to come slamming down? Can’t we keep the boundaries blurred for just a little while longer?

My parents (hippies I used to say) believed in being direct. I can remember the first time I found out where babies came from. Even though I would have read hundreds of stories on my mother’s lap, it is this book I remember most clearly. I was around the age my son is now, I guess. 1976. Something about the tone, the conversation, must have set it apart. Important. To be remembered. I remember the delicate, almost technical, illustrations of a child inside a mother’s womb. The anatomy. I remember the precise wording of the pages. There was no passion. This was scientific. No room for questions.

It’s grade 2 and I’m in the school yard. I’m swinging on the monkey bars (we had those in the playground then). I’ve been talking to my best friend Christina for an hour. About sex. About who does what. And how it works. What goes where. She hasn’t said a word. I have her undivided attention. I feel like I’m an expert. I say it all in a matter-of-fact voice. As if it’s no big deal.

There's a House Inside My Mummy

There’s a House Inside My Mummy

The next day Christina’s big sister comes up to me in the playground. She’s in grade 6. She says that I shouldn’t talk that way. The way I talked yesterday. That it’s dirty. And disgusting. She says I’m too young to know things like that. And, as she leaves, she says, Oh, and my parents don’t want you playing with Christina any more.

I don’t know why but I feel ashamed. As if I need to be washed. As if I’m rubbing off on people. There’s a collision between the message I’m getting (from my mother) and the message I’m getting (from my peers). For some reason, it’s the children around me who have greater impact. I’m left confused. I don’t talk about this with my mum. I learn quickly that bodies, what they do, how they express themselves, should be hidden, that sex is something to keep secret.

But mum perseveres. Later in primary school we move on to Peter Mayles’ hilarious What’s Happening to Me? and Where Did I Come From?, two classics that answered all the key questions in a comic tone. Just seeing the illustrations again now makes me giggle. I remember my mother and I laughing at the page that had all different shapes of breasts and arguing over which ones would be best: the pendulous; the throw-over-your-shoulder; the pert and neat.

I wonder now if there are any new books that I can read to McCool. Has sex education moved into the digital sphere (there’s probably an App available somewhere they can stroke with their fingers)? Or do we still return to the classics?

LET ME KNOW. HOW DID YOU ANSWER YOUR KIDS’ CURLY QUESTIONS ABOUT WHERE BABIES COME FROM? AND WHAT AGE DO YOU THINK IS IDEAL TO START TALKING TO THEM?

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30 kangaroos, 12 alpacas, 5 magpies, two shetlands and a chook

Creswick Wool Mill alpacas

Creswick Wool Mill alpacas

Every morning we are waking to a winter wonderland. The longer nights mean better sleep-ins (it still seems like midnight at 7am) but at 9am the ground is still covered in sparkling, crunchy frost that steams in the weak sun.

I brave the cold with GG in her pram. Even in zero-degree weather she insists on taking her socks off so we wrestle with each other on the stroll. Each day I head in a different direction down a dirt track, first right, first left. I never get very far because I’m usually stopped by something that catches my breath. The first day we strolled up past the Kickback Corral. Yep, pardners, an old sign bearing the name swings broken from a tree. Just around the corner, pram wheels spinning in the deep and rutted gravel, there are horses. A Shetland pony nibbles grass, fat, not hungry enough to come to the fence to check us out. No carrots.

The next day we head right and it’s even colder. My hands ache. My feet crackle. I’ve been to the opshop to find more clothes. Coming from Sydney (originally Melbourne) I couldn’t imagine a real winter. I have seven layers on. And I haven’t even got to my coat. I waddle along. I need fingerless gloves and a funny hat. A lot of people in Castlemaine wear funny hats. The ones with the dangly bits that keep your ears warm. I couldn’t ever see the point. But now I want one — the more outrageous the better. We have been battling with McCool for months now about wearing a coat. But even he’s given up and is wearing the warmest he can find. The other day I drove him to child care and the car declared ‘minus 1.5 degrees’. I couldn’t believe it. Can humans exist in such temperatures?

Funny woollen hatBut back to the travels. GG and I turned a corner and a mob of 30 kangaroos froze in the pale light. They stayed still as if playing a game of hide and seek. We stood frozen too; it felt like trespassing to walk through them. Ten minutes we stayed like that, hushed. Finally a large roo started to hop and they all bounded a short distance away, then resumed their stance. Eventually a few heads went down to nibble at the grass. I want to go all Instagramy now and show you some shimmery sepia photos but I didn’t have my camera, and my phone is crap.

At the local farmers’ market beautiful freckled chooks were for sale. Twenty bucks. One had happily laid an egg in her cage, and I wanted to take her straight home. The owner took a dainty hen out and gave her to a small boy. She relaxed completely in his arms, posing for a photo for the local paper; the photographer seemed desperate to find something happening. McCool stroked the chooks gently, enjoying their warmth. I chomped my way through a spinach and cheese burek.

The local wool mill at Creswick had a ‘cutest cria competition’. Crias are baby alpacas and they jostled with each other as we decided which one deserved our vote. McCool quickly points out Scout, the tiniest, a jet black rascal with the softest fuzzy head. I’m not usually one for the shops they place at the start of the building to entice you along the way but this was full of delectable soft things to snuggle up into, alpaca throws and sheepskin rugs. At prices in the hundreds of dollars but you can always cop a feel, anyway, free of charge.

Driving around the region it feels like you’re on holiday, that you’ve grabbed a long weekend and are exploring with the kids. But the best part is you don’t have those ‘we’ve gotta return to the city’ Sunday night blues. We wake up again here on Monday morning. It’s a good move. I can feel it in my waters.

Beyond the Mummy-Dictator

Disciplining your children, dictator-style.

They say that moving house rates up there with divorce or the death of a loved one in terms of anxiety stakes. I always thought this was a bit much. I’ve moved many times and it’s just a case of chucking everything in boxes, right?

But this time was different. And it seemed to integrate all of the above. There was both the grief (from saying goodbye to close friends) and the conflict (near-divorce at any rate: we all have different notions on how to pack a box). Moving interstate to regional Victoria with two little kids was tough going. For starters, we made decisions last minute. VERY last minute. We didn’t really anticipate a whole backyard of things that we didn’t want to keep — still on the lawn before the final house inspection. On our last day in Sydney we drove one hour to Campbelltown to stay overnight at a motel, just to feel we had at least started the journey.

No matter how many times I read Buddhism for Mothers, at times of tough-going I revert to Mummy-Dictator instead: you will do as you’re told. And helpful parenting tips like putting my hands over my ears and repeating ‘I can’t hear you’ in a mantra (I swore I would never do that). McCool (at three and a half) has decided the best option to get what he wants is just to scream at a very high pitch for a long time and not to eat anything at the dinner table unless he is spoon fed. Luckily GG (at 14 months) is gurglingly happy no matter where she eats or sleeps and just fills the days with delight. She is just taking a few steps at a time.

Sarah Napthali, Buddhism For MothersBut we have safely landed in Castlemaine. The house has a view from every room that doesn’t feature human-made structures. You can do a bushwalk up the dirt track at the end of the street to Poverty Gully (the writer’s life?). Big rabbits play in the backyard and we suspect a wombat or two. It’s cold but cosy. McCool can do a circuit around the backyard on his wheelie. He’s started child care right away where they serve hot vegetarian meals (good luck to them with that). He keeps saying, ‘This is my last day at child care’ and ‘When are we going back to my Sydney home?’ but he’ll get there. He sneaks into bed beside me every night (each night it gets earlier), his fingers like iceblocks. There’s a gently emerging humour. The other day in the shower he said, ‘Are you washing your turkeys?’ I couldn’t work out which body part he meant (probably best not to know) but I think it’s the first time we have both ended up in hysterics at one of his jokes.

I love the peace of the place already. The vibrant community that I hope to join (shyly). Facebook makes it so much easier for people like me. The Castlemania Group offers the chance to ask any question about local life and be swamped with friendly responses. There’s music playgroup. A lunch each week that welcomes locals. Nude drawing classes. Lots of yoga. And, most importantly, great places to eat. I look forward to slowly getting to know the town and finding the space to do more writing too.

HOW DO YOU GET CLOSER TO BUDDHA THAN DICTATOR AT TIMES OF STRESS? ANY TIPS APPRECIATED…

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Writing Mothers: Allison Tait

Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro

Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro

One of the first bloggers I discovered as I was searching for writings on motherhood and rural life was Life in a Pink Fibro (see Top 5 Rural Blogs), Allison Tait’s wonderfully poetic look at family life. I fell in love with the design and her clarity of expression, and her ability to turn everyday moments into memorable prose. I learnt a lot about blogging from reading her carefully managed posts.

Allison also manages to write fiction (at night) with a novel to be published in 2013, and has co-authored the book Career Mums for Penguin. I chatted to her about balancing a busy writing career with raising children.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

I started my blog, Life in a Pink Fibro, in January 2010. My boys were six and three when I started. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

The blog Miscellaneous Mum, created by Karen Andrews, is one of my favourites. It manages to encompass the detailed trials and tribulations of daily life with a family, great reviews of books (including Stasiland by Anna Funder, interviewed here) and news of her life as a writer.

She even started the ‘1001 Books to Read Before You Die’ challenge.

(The weird thing is, I started this in a blog, too, many moons ago — before I saw hers. I got about five books in. It was so long ago I can’t even find my own blog using Google. Ah well). She’s doing better.

She also somehow manages to hold down a desk job (a great one!) as program manager of the Emerging Writers’ Festival that begins in a couple of weeks in Melbourne.

Her blog’s subheading — ‘Trying to find the objective correlative, everyday’ — has kept me thinking for months. It seems exactly the right phrase to describe her type of writing. While many mother-bloggers keep their posts raw and emotional (which I enjoy too), Andrews’ style has an austerity and sophistication that suspends and transfixes you.

In the upcoming edition of Newswrite (June–July), Mandy Sayer writes about this term, the objective correlative, in relation to Hemingway and Chekhov:

Chekhov, also a playwright, was a master at using objective external details, coupled with understatement and irony, to convey complex emotional states. This rendering of the internal through the external, the subjective through the objective, is a technique T.S. Eliot later described as the ‘objective correlative’.

 The method involves writing imagery and actions that are so precise, so resonant, that the narrator doesn’t need to state how a certain character feels: the emotions are already there, embedded in the landscape, the light, the weather, the scents, the sounds, and the silences.

To do this, everyday? I spoke to Karen about the challenges of blogging and balancing the writing with family life.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

KA: I started blogging in August 2006, when my second (and youngest) child was five months’ old.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

KA: I primarily just wanted to get my own writerly ‘voice’ back, as well as my own ‘personal’ one. I had been experiencing severe post-partum anxiety attacks and was just trying to sort myself out mentally and emotionally. Perhaps an odd choice of forum, given the public nature of blogging, but I also wanted to seek out others who’d been through the same, or even help others in their journey.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

Karen Andrews has also written a children's book, Surprise!

Karen Andrews has also written a children’s book, Surprise!

KA: It happens both ways. When the kids were younger, I admit it was more in bursts, while they played near me or during nap times. These days it’s more strategic and regimented as I’ve got other commitments (such as work and my offline writing) to attend to as well. I’ve never worked very well at night — either with writing or blogging — so I really have to manage my time during the day as best as I can. I concede this probably makes me a slower writer, but I’m saner too!

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

KA: I have been wondering more and more about my writing style in recent times. In my work (program manager at the Emerging Writers’ Festival) I come across different writers and forms all the time, and I do occasionally think, ‘Where do I fit in among the ‘scene’? I still feel young, too, in a career and chronological sense (I’m 33). There’s a tension within me that I’ve always fought: that being the need to rush and the mentality to absorb and learn from others.

In terms of standing out from the crowd, I think I have etched out for myself a sort of blogging reputation that coincides with an indie-publishing-slash-entrepreneurial-bent that is nice if — at times — undeserved! I do earn money from blogging, more than writing. That is nice, I admit, but I do remain mindful of my deep set loves and values about writing and keeping a sort of…purity of intent.

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

KA: I’ve blogged about kids since the beginning; my first post was about my daughter. It was a blog about them — although I knew it couldn’t be forever — and I’ve been slowly turning it into a blog that’s more about me, and they’re more of a reflection in that sense (although I’d never for a moment presume to say that what has happened in the past is an explicit recount but, rather, more of a subjective interpretation rendered in as nice/expressive way as I can, like other creative nonfiction does).

There are lines I’ve drawn, but that has been at the request of my husband. The kids will do the same all in good time too. I respect that. Other truths can wait for my fiction.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

KA: I have lots of favourite bloggers who are mothers who happen to blog about parenting: I think Penni Russon (eglantine’s cake) is wonderful, and I am proud to call her a friend of mine. We’ve talked about blogging a lot together. Another friend who is an excellent writer is Tiffany Tregenza (My Three Ring Circus). These are in Australia. In America, possibly my favourite is Amy Storch (Amalah).

How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

KA: It’s made me more open to the value of flash/shorter fiction for starters! It’s made me realise much quicker the greater potential an idea might lend itself to having, ie whether it would be better to make a blog post out of something or turn it into a poem. For example, a day I had at the park years ago could’ve been easy to turn into a post along the lines of ‘We Had A Crap Day At The Park – Let Me Whine About It To You’. But I knew there was more to it than that. So I turned it into a poem — and it went on to win a literary award.

This interview is part of the ‘Writing Mothers’ series. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my interviews with Anna Funder, Fiona McGregor and Bianca Wordley (Big Words blog).

Who’s your favourite blogger on parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Writing Mothers: Bianca Wordley

Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog

Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog

Seven weeks to go until we move and I haven’t started packing yet. The boxes are sitting there, all flat, teasing me. When I told mum about this blog she said, ‘so you’re blogging about packing rather than actually packing’. Seven weeks may sound like a long time but when you’ve got two children under four, you can’t just throw it all in like you used to. I just added it up and I have moved house at least 18 times in my life. That’s a lot of packing. I’m terrible putting boxes together, taping with masking tape. I’d be hopeless in dispatch. I have poor inter-taping skills. I’m in denial. And I keep getting distracted by books. The removalists sent a marketing type to give a quote today and she looked shocked by the number on my shelves. I really don’t have that many (you should have seen when I was at uni). As I weigh each heavy tome in my hands I start to rationalise: surely, I can get that on kindle.

So, as I’m going to be covered in dust and grasshoppers (that’s what I just found in the shed) for the next few months, I thought I’d continue on a series of interviews with writers about motherhood and writing. Bianca Wordley is an Adelaide-based writer who has been hugely successful with her blog, Big Words, and she also writes regularly for The Hoopla (a site that’s emerging as a wonderfully topical daily critique of all things cultural). In a recent post, The Annoying Kid, she takes a look at parents who are there — but absent. We’ve all encountered these situations. A child who bites others on a jumping castle. Or keeps going up the slide the wrong way, endangering others at the playground. The parent remains hands-off, or lingers in the background, so much so that you feel you should discipline the child yourself. But then what? It turns into The Slap. She also writes entertainingly on the whole concept of the mummy-blogger (and the companies that market to them).

I spoke to Bianca about fitting in blogging around the care of three small children…

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

BW: I started blogging seriously after the birth of my third child, so about one and a half years ago.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

BW: I am a trained journalist and while I still write freelance articles for a number of different clients I was craving a more creative outlet. At the time I was also living in the Adelaide Hills and felt quite isolated with three kids under five. Blogging connected me to a whole world of other like-minded women.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

BW: I write when I get a burst of creativity. Sometimes I write at night or in the morning when the kids are asleep, but mostly I write when they are running around the place. Their constant distractions are at times difficult, but mostly they can be easily distracted with kids’ television and food.

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

BW: One of the main reasons I started blogging was to break out of the newspaper style I was trained in and find my own creative voice. I use my blog as a sounding board and experiment to discover what style or styles suit me. I am in a constant state of learning, but slowly getting there.

Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog

Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

BW: I am getting more aware of my kids’ privacy the older they get. My eldest child has just started school and I am still unsure how many mothers I will let know about my blog. I try to blog about my story, not about my children’s personal issues, but as our lives are so entwined that is a tricky subject I am constantly reassessing.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

BW: I have a number of favourite bloggers — Under the Yardarm, Edenland, Woogsworld, BabyMac are just a few. I like honest and raw bloggers, but I also love bloggers who give me an escape from the drudgery, who make me laugh and not feel so alone in the boredom which often envelopes your life as a mother. I search for brave, inspiring and upbeat writers.

Do you do any other writing? How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

BW: I write for a number of clients in both the corporate and blogging world. I am a regular columnist for websites including The Hoopla, justb and Kleenex Mums. Blogging has opened up many paid writing opportunities. At present, I am also writing my first novel — little-by-little I write it. One day soon, I’ll find the time to focus more on my novel as that is the direction I am heading and most passionate about — telling stories.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series has also featured Anna Funder. Next week I’ll talk to novelist and performance artist Fiona McGregor about how she goes about creating mother characters in her award-winning novels.

Do you write a blog about parenting? Who is your favourite mother-blogger? I’d love to hear from you…

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