To be loved like this

‘Mama, Mama, Mama…’ says my youngest, wrapping herself around my head like a boa constrictor. She presses her soft cheek against mine. I can feel her cheekbones. Her limbs slither about me, and then she rests. She can’t possibly be comfortable. I know I’m not, but it’s nice to be loved like this. My eldest loves on her own terms, and affection is given out in much smaller doses.

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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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Oh, the fighting…

I remember when I was a kid, my Mum was always talking about how much my brothers and I would fight. She used to tell us that our Uncle, who happened to be staying with us at the time, would hide in the garage until we had left for school just to avoid the noise. My brothers and I would laugh. Now, I find myself saying something similar to my girls it makes me wince. My girls have discovered the art of fighting. Yelling, crying, whinging, hitting, pinching, taunting, you name it, it’s in their armoury.

Now, I say similar things to my girls, trying to find the ‘thing’ that will make the yelling and crying, the whinging and the hitting, the pinching and the taunting stop. You name it, it’s in their armoury.

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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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