Homeschooling… No, well, maybe…

‘I’m going to school today,’ says my youngest, dancing down the stairs to the kitchen. She’s been home sick for the whole week, and while I’m hanging for her to go back so I can write, so I can work, so I can rest, burdened as I am with the virus she so kindly sneezed all over my face. There’ nothing like being splattered with a loved one’s mucus. But she fell asleep at about 3pm yesterday, slept until after 5pm and then went back to sleep again at 7.30pm. Unheard of for her. This is the girl who I had to force to drop her day sleep at 2 years old because whenever she slept she would remain wide awake until well after 11pm. Enough to destroy what was left of her mother’s sanity. So I was not quite so convinced that school was a good idea just yet. Not matter how much I wanted it.

Her older sister, who had decided the night before that she would not be going to school today as it was ‘unfair’ that she had to go when her sister did not, woke up with a raging fever. She’s a powerful little being. I am not sure if she too was sneezed all over or if she just willed the fever into existence to prove a point.

As soon as my youngest got wind of this strange turn around, and realised that she would be going to school while her sister stayed home, the water works started. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ she wailed so loudly I’m sure our neighbours were left wondering what strange and unusual punishment we had concocted for our three-year-old.

My husband was clear, she was well enough for school. As she writhed around on the floor, I considered it might be possible, but I was reluctant to send her back too early. Plus, there was no way I could get her sister into the bike to go and pick her up from school should we be wrong. So home she stayed.

A year or so ago I started following a delightful blog about a woman who had seven children, for that I was ready to erect a statue to her. But she also chose to homeschool. I was wondrous and amazed. I love my children but the idea of homeschooling makes my ovaries want to crawl up into my spine. My biggest challenge as a mother has always been the relentlessness of it all. When they were both home from school, trying to get any time to myself was near impossible and it exhausted my spirit. I loved playing with them, and caring for them, not so much the washing, folding and putting away of all of their clothes, and I definitely grew to despise scraping egg yolk from tables. I love setting up spaces for them, creating cupboards that make sense of their toys, and shelves to organise all of the creative outlets we explore together. We collect spring blossoms to hang on their book tree (a book case shaped like a tree, branches and all), we paint, we craft, we colour, we cook and take care of our plants, but when my husband is a away for weeks at a time and they are sick, I return to those earlier dark days, of sleep deprivation and relentlessness and my spirit shudders. No reprieve. No time. No space. ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’, ‘get me …’

And so I admired this woman for being able to embrace the everydayness of her life, the relentlessness of her tasks, the unfinished state of her projects, the lack of personal space, within her body, and in her home. Those babies of hers are always around her. Always. And she seems happy.

‘I could never home school,’ I told my husband one night, the blue glow of my phone dancing on the wall, as I read another post of hers. I laughed with her at the unfinished washing, and the sense of chaos that life with young children can create. I admired her, but in the way that I was grateful her life was not mine.

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A tree doesn’t apologise for itself it is simply a tree…

For as long as I can remember I’ve been apologising for myself, for my life. ‘You apologise too much,’ says my husband, his brow furrowing in confusion and frustration when I say to him, ’I’m sorry you’ve had a bad day.’

‘How is that your fault?’ he asks every time.

‘It’s not, its empathy,’ I explain. Which of course makes no more sense to him than the original apology. Empathy is not something he understands, neither the theory or the practise. For him, it’s a waste of time, but bless him, he’s been rote learning how to say empathetic words because he knows that they are important to me. Sometimes it helps, sometimes I want to slap him, but it’s the best he can do.

Other times, though, I wind up apologising for my life.

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The new 20 somethings and social media

I scroll through my Instagram feed. I’m meant to be sleeping, and I really should be doing one of the many things that will actually help me get to sleep, but I’m not, I’m looking at Instagram. Suddenly I am face to face with the inside of my fridge. That’s strange, I think slightly delirious, did I post that? I didn’t post that. Why would I post a picture of the inside of my fridge? I know it is my fridge because even though it may be a well-organised piece of machinery, mostly because every Saturday after the Farmer’s Market, I cook and prep and set the fridge and freezer up for the week ahead in a weird game of Tetris that only I seem to know the rules to, it is not always clean.

Let me be upfront, I am a terrible cleaner, okay, I’m not, but I really hate doing it. I have strong memories of having to vacuum the kitchen, family room, bedrooms, bathroom, laundry, toilet and hallway before school every morning. Mum swears she only made me do that for a week to prove a point but I am sure it was much longer than that.

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On doing it all and the gift that is accepting help

We have an au pair. Yes, we have officially become that family. The one I only ever heard about in books and movies. The one I’ve heard people talk scathingly about and judge for ‘outsourcing’ their responsibilities. The one my husband has been suggesting we evolve into for years and I have stubbornly, dragged my feet (and my adrenals), kicking and screaming as I insisted, No, No, No, I could do it all, I would do it all, and in fact, I should do it all. I cannot do it all. My body has made it very clear that I should not be doing it all. And most importantly I’ve discovered, I do not actually want to do it all, not alone anyway. I’m not a very nice person when I’m doing it all.

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The power and freedom that comes with success

‘Wie kan ik helpen?’ asks the older woman behind the fruit and veg stand. Her long grey hair is plaited over the front of her head, and down into a long braid over her shoulder. It’s the same every week. Her face has the look of someone who has spent her life outside, working too hard. It’s weathered and lined, and a little stern, but it softens into a smile when she tells you which are the best vegetables to buy that week.
‘Mij, bedankt.’ I say, my stomach flipping about, but I am determined to get through this experience using as much dutch as I can muster. I get a smile, earlier than normal, and I feel like I’ve won a prize. As if I’ve somehow crossed over from tourist to tolerated expat.

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There were three in the bed and the little one said…

‘Mama, Mama,’ It’s 3am, and my eldest’s voice can be heard without the monitor. By the time I get down the stairs to her room, pillow in hand, because who am I kidding, I’m not getting back up those stairs tonight, she is crying.

‘My stomach hurts,’ she wails.

I aim the gizmo out her brow, no fever. I palpate her stomach, and she jumps a foot in the air when I get to her left side. Not appendicitis.

‘Want to sleep with me on the couch?’ I ask, my eyes open but not really awake.

‘She climbs in beside me, and I wrap my arm around her. She pushes my arm away. Close, but not too close, she’s always been like that. ‘Sit with me Mama,’ she would say and so I would snuggle up to her. ‘Don’t touch me, Mama,’ she would say, scowling at my neediness.

I close my eyes and slip back into sleep.

‘How come I can’t sleep with you?’ asks my youngest five minutes, ten minutes, an hour later, I’ve no idea, time is nonexistent now, I just know its night time and I’m not sleeping.

‘Hop in,’ I say lifting the blanket at the other end of the couch,’ knowing before she says anything what is coming.

‘I want to sleep next to you.’

‘There’s not enough room, darling. You can sleep next to grace and I’ll sleep at the other end. But Grace isn’t well, that’s why I’m next to her. Remember how I slept next to you when you were sick.’

‘Okay,’ I love that she doesn’t fight with me on this. She simply snuggles in under the other end of the blanket, the cool pads of her little feet pressed against mine.

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What is it about having children that makes us community property?

‘Hey,’ says a man on the street. I look up from my phone, he continues talking but I can’t understand a word he is saying. I grab my eldest’s hand as we are moving from the roadworks onto what is a busy street and look at him puzzled.

‘Get off your phone,’ he says in English, gesticulating at my daughter and the busy street.

‘Excuse me?’ I ask, confused and surprised at his vehemence.

‘You, you’re dangerous. It’s a busy street, you should be watching.’

‘I didn’t ask for your opinion, Sir.’ I offer, turning away.

‘I should report you to the police,’ he continues, his face screwed up tightly, his eyes bulging at me like a pit bull.

‘Go on then,’ I say, holding my daughter’s hand more tightly now. I watch the man walk off continuing to rant and gesticulate wildly, outraged at my audacity. I wish I’d been composed enough to say to the man ‘please don’t attack my self-worth, I don’t have a lot of it to spare.’ I wish too, that he’d have been able to hear that and respond with empathy. But empathy was not being served.

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Amsterdam, a city where wheelchairs are cars, cars are bikes and nobody wears a helmet.

As I drove home in an uber from my Alexander session, my body was busy confusedly exploring its new positioning in the world. ‘Your ankles have much more movement than you think,’ says Paul, my adorable teddy bear of a teacher who hugs me a lot, giggles like a buddha, and has fast become a highlight of my week in this crazy country we now call home. The car I was in, stopped to give way to a wheelchair. This, in and of itself is not really so strange, nor worthy of commentary, had he not given way, there would have been much to say. But he did give way, so that point is moot. Perhaps, I thought to my self, she is simply crossing the road and there is no pedestrian crossing anywhere nearby. But that was not the case either. What was unusual about it, was that the lady in the wheelchair was zipping along the road as though she were driving a car.

Up ahead the lights changed to red, and I swear, her break lights flashed on as she pulled to a stop. A bike pulled up beside her and then the cars lined up behind them.

Here in Amsterdam, bikes are akin to cows in India.

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Dutch bugs think fresh Aussie bods are an easy target.

We are all sick within a week of arriving in Amsterdam. Mum gets it first, a gastro bug that leaves her pale and shaking. She spends the night on the toilet but feels okay the next day, well okay enough to potter around the house in her pastel rainbow-coloured t-shirt nightie, the white hoodie we’d managed to find at H&M, because she doesn’t own a jumper and Amsterdam is celebrating a scorching top of 8 degrees C, and the pair of ankle socks we’d bought at the market. Okay, we think, a little cocky, this is not so bad.

My youngest is next to fall victim. I brush the clammy curls from my youngest’s forehead, and read to her, while she begs me to put something on her dry toast. Dr Google suggests apple but then diarrhoea foams in her nappy. I strip her off, change her clothes, strip the bed she is lying on, and much to her horror, we revert back to dried toast. When her weak cries for prosciutto or peanut butter or whatever it is that her sister happens to be eating get too much, I press play on the iPad and distract her with Doc McStuffins. Within 48 hours though, she is better. My husband is struck down next, however, he lays prone in bed for almost a week. He looks ashen, the lines on his face a little deeper, a grey-flecked beard sprouting messily across his chin. Everything about him looked tired and grey, like his charcoal pyjamas, which Mum had accidentally shrunk in the dryer and then tried to stretch back out. He looked exactly like Robin Williams when he was trying to remember that he was Peter Pan.

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You really can make your childhood dreams come true, at any age.

‘What instrument would you like to learn?’ asks my Dad. I am 12 years old, maybe, and my younger brother has just started learning the guitar. I’m jealous. Looking back, I guess I’d made my feelings pretty clear and am pretty sure there may even have been some spectacular tantrums or possibly even one of my world famous ‘cats bum’ sulks (a humiliatingly accurate description provided thoughtfully by my step dad who has clearly witnessed more than his fair share).

‘The piano,’ I say. I loved the romance of the piano. The long, sleek lines and the monochromatic mystery of the keys. Keys that when played in a certain way could produce music so light and ethereal it lifted my heart carried if somewhere light and free and wonderful. I wanted to make music like that.
‘No,’ my father told me, in no uncertain terms, ‘it’s too expensive. Pick something else.’

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